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That story of modern day slavery on Long Island was kind of a downer (as are most tales of indentured labor). But now that the perpetrators have been found guilty, I can focus on the strangest aspect of the case: the Indonesian women’s apparent affinity for doughnuts.

Both doughnut-related incidents are mentioned in consecutive paragraphs of today’s New York Times article:

“In the trial, a landscaper testified that one of the women had once approached him, indicated that she was hungry and uttered a single word: doughnut. He said he gave her some doughnuts and she ran back in the house.”

And it was a Dunkin’ Donuts employee who ultimately called the police:

“Finally, one of the women, Samirah, sought help by wandering into a Dunkin’ Donuts shop in Syosset one Sunday morning, slapping herself and uttering a word that sounded like ‘master.’”

They do have doughnuts in Indonesia, in case you were wondering. I was. Um, and they cover them in melted cheese and Oreos and give them names like the Alcapone.

J.Co Donuts photo from a touch of serenity

Whine Bar

I was going to post this last week and forgot about it and was about to discard it because now it’s old news, plus complaining isn’t attractive. Unfortunately, now I have to because this weekend I ran into a friend at a party who was raving about how great Viñas is and I realize people who live in Williamsburg have wildly different standards from mine but I can’t allow delusional folks to perpetuate falsehoods. So, my friend, her South American boyfriend and a Zagat employee who treated them to a meal love this place. So much so that it was brought up as a fun New Year’s Eve dining spot. That already breaks my rule for a Williamsburg/’80s music-free new year. It’s going to be a tough 2008, I fear.

Original post (ha, or should I say blog as is the new-style parlance):

Generally, I hate eating in Williamsburg. The only time I ever dine in the neighborhood (my hand so wants to type ‘hood or nabe) is when I get a haircut every three months or so, which lord knows, sounds way lamer than just flat out eating in Williamsburg but I’ve yet to find any professional with better prices who grasps non-ugly styling. (Here’s my new cut if you’re into exhibitionist MySpace crap—I don’t like putting photos of myself here despite the Me in the title)

But if for some reason you like to eat in Williamsburg, stay away from Viñas. I know the no seating until your party has arrived deal is an annoying standard but they went beyond. I’m punctuality-crazed but was fifteen minutes later than expected thanks to the G train. I said I’d meet James there at 7:15 and didn’t make it till 7:30. He showed up fifteen minutes early, which was also uncharacteristic. It was a perfect storm of time management flubs.

They wouldn’t let him have a drink at the bar (because essentially most of the seating is at the bar, I assume) even though the room was empty. They wouldn’t let him stand inside and wait either. It’s not that small of a space–75-seats according to New York. And now that we’re into winter weather, it seems especially rude. What kind of restaurant insists you must leave when it’s not even half-full? I don’t want to turn into a fussbudget, but it seems kind of ridiculous because couldn’t you just change your tune and say you were dining solo, oh, and then a friend stops by like fifteen minutes later?

So, there wasn’t any way we were going to eat there when the full party, i.e. me finally showed up. Ok, out of curiosity we did pop in to ask about seating for two and were quoted 30 minutes. Please, it’s just pan-latin tapas.

Old standby Diner, a block away, seated us immediately and my duck breast with sweet potatoes (mysteriously crunchy and brown) “spaetzle” and endive salad with lardons, poached egg and walnut vinaigrette were uber-seasonal and higher caliber than much of what passes for edible in the area. I can’t really find fault with them, though that chain restaurant-style of waiters crouching at your table has always weirded me out. And somehow we managed to spend $100 without even realizing it. Still, it’s $100 that thankfully wasn’t wasted on a needlessly attitudinal new wine bar.


Apparently, sales people don’t eat sardines, chicken liver or octopus, or at least that’s what I was led to believe by my coworker who planned our holiday party at newish, strange-for-the-neighborhood Bacaro. I didn’t want to believe the meat and potatoes of it but I’m afraid it might be true.

As I grow more entrenched in market research surveys, I see people in percentages. I’d love to find a study on eating habits by job function, which would probably correlate to personality types. My half-baked theory is that extroverts are conservative eaters and introverts more culinarily adventurous.

At lot of food went to waste and that concerned the spend thrift in me. Even though I did try everything except the dessert (tiramisu, panna cotta and possibly cheesecake) I had to remind myself that just because the catacombs (yes, the subterranean dining rooms are tricked out with stone walls, wooden beams and lots of candlelit nooks and crannies) were teeming with plates of pasta and antipasti it wasn’t my duty to eat everything in front of me like my sweet but obese cat would.


Really, holiday parties are more about drinking and socializing; good food is just a fringe benefit. Normally, I’d be all for unlimited alcohol but I was still feeling the disastrous effects from the previous night’s holiday party (the best part of James’s company’s fete was the free photo booth. I was too scared of the caricature artist and most definitely avoided the face painting station. I’m not sure if I loved or hated the DJ playing Bell Biv DeVoe and Journey) so I stuck with a reasonable number of glasses (uh, five instead of 8+) of fizzy, fun, low-alcohol Lambrusco.

It’s hard to fairly assess catered food since it’s served in bulk and tends to sit out. And I have no idea what the portions and pricing are like when ordered a la carte. Though we were offered most of the cicchetti on the menu so at least I’m now familiar with the majority of what Bacaro does. There weren’t really any misfires and I would have no problem returning for snacks and wine, though if I’m ever near the East Broadway F stop I’m more inclined to think Chinese.


The dreaded sarde in saor . There was lots of grumbling about these poor pine nut, raisin, onion and olive oil dressed fish. I love that Moorish combination of ingredients. One of my favorite tapas ever uses similar flavors with chickpeas and morcilla, but there would’ve been a mutiny if blood sausage made an appearance at the party. My only complaint was that this was difficult to eat standing up with a drink in hand.


Meats and cheeses seemed benign enough, but numerous people expressed dismay/confusion/fear at the dark red folded slices. I’m fairly certain it was bresaola. I was like “it’s beef.” Don’t all non-vegetarians like beef? Air-dried beef isn’t scary and everyone seemed to dig it once they took a bite. The rest of the tray contained prosciutto, salami, mortadella, parmesan and mozzarella.


I also assumed crostini would be inoffensive. I liked the chicken liver spread best. The dark ones were kind of dull and mushroom based. The light ones might’ve been salt cod.


Gnocchi con funghi was a hit. I forget how likeable gnocchi is because I never eat Italian food. These potato blobs were unusually large and pleasantly chewy. I’d like to say toothsome but people hate that word. I might say pillowy instead and that would still set off some florid prose meters. Personally, I like cliches.


The second pasta, risotto al nero di seppia, also had a lot of takers despite its squid inky color. I did hear someone say, “What’s that? Dip?”


I didn’t eat much of the frito misto. It seemed to be a mix of octopus and vegetables, heavy on the octopus.


Insalata polpi. I guess you either love or hate octopus. This was a simple salad with tiny wedges of potato and slivers of celery. Fresh though not wildly exciting.


Polpette. That’s a spicy meatball. No really, they were. Even these straightforward little orbs gave people pause because they didn’t know what kind of meat they were made from. I’m guessing pork but it could’ve been a combo with beef or veal and I wouldn’t have known the difference.

Bacaro * 136 Division St., New York, NY

Schnitzel Haus

1/2 I’ve never actually eaten a schnitzel at Schnitzel Haus and that’s because the pork shank, a.k.a. schweineshaxe (I can’t believe I’ve been able to use that word twice in a month) is so irresistible. And yes, I’m still doing my part to hype up German food as the new culinary hotness.

Because I was feeling gracious I allowed James to order the pork this time and I branched out with the sauerbraten. This was a dry, boring mistake. While the sauce was tart and meaty and the dumplings were carby fun, the meat was kind of eh. I don’t buy into that death of entrée bullshit but I did get bored after a few bites.

The schweineshaxe was as decadent and crackly as ever, though there was one obvious change from last year’s visit. What used to be the standard size is now listed as a special for twenty-something dollars while the version on the regular menu is a little cheaper, tinier though hardly dainty. I did say that the original shank easily made three servings, so they must’ve wised up.

We tried the smoked trout appetizer, which pretty much tasted like smoked trout. I’m not sure what was in the spread that accompanied it. If I didn’t know better I would say it was cream cheese whipped with horseradish and something sweet like applesauce, though I doubt they actually used applesauce. My only gripe was that you need something starchy with smoked meats (at least I do) and we asked for bread and no one could seem to get around to doing this, despite a breadbasket sitting on everyone else’s tables. Complaining about bread and moderately slow service is very old-lady-ish but I can’t help myself.

On this particular Friday night we were treated to a full band warbling Steely Dan and Jimmy Buffet renditions (more and more it seems that Mr. Buffet is the prime choice for cover bands) and Killepitsch girls (who looked nothing like the model on the brand site) trying to sell promotional shots of herbal liqueur. I was curious, but not $5 curious.

I hear there is a buffet on certain weeknights. You don’t see many, if any, German all-you-can-eat offerings in NYC, and it’s doubtful there’s much demand either. But if unlimited spaetzle and brats are your thing, Bay Ridge is the place to be. (12/12/07)

Keeping it simple with my review

Read more

Om Tibet

Om Tibet is no more. 9/08

I think I must be desensitized to little nuisances, which is hard to believe since I’m irked on at least an hourly basis. But Om Tibet seemed to push the limits of visiting family. I don’t think they were keen on trying Tibetan food in the first place. To be honest, I wasn’t sure that I was either. I imagined it would be bland and dull. And it really wasn’t.

  I became a little nervous when a craggy customer who looked like a Korean war vet came over to take our order because the waitress had gone out and he wasn’t sure when she’d get back. I’m still not sure what his connection to the restaurant was, but he was sitting with some Asian men who seemed to be staff.


He was gung ho on the momos, steamed dumplings, and I thought they were a must too. These beef filled ones were very much like pot stickers minus the browned bottoms.


Thenthuk, a simple beef noodle soup with daikon and spinach caused a mild stir because it came in one bowl. I didn’t expect it to be served individually and assumed it was meant for one, but whatever. I was the only one who touched it and ended up bringing most of it home for later. I did appreciate the hand pulled noodles, but it didn’t quell my fears about bland food.


Shamdae doesn’t look like much but the chicken curry spiced similarly to Indian food was a hit.


The “shapta special beef chilly” was the stand out dish for me. The strips of beef were coated in a fiery, dry cumin spiked sauce and stir fried with onions, tomatoes and jalapenos. It felt more Chinese than Indian and wasn’t really either. Maybe that’s Tibetan?

Minor Trouble also erupted when we were told they didn’t have coffee. Because I’m opinionated and judgmental about things that don’t matter, I’ve come to believe that drinking coffee with dinner is the province of alcoholics and/or Denny’s patrons. Maybe I’m sensitive to this practice because I was called on it many years ago by a smart assy boss.


But they did have bocha, a tea rendered salty and creamy by yak butter. Ok, gross. I was the only taker, and it really wasn’t as unappealing as it sounds. I seemed like less of a beverage and more of a fortifying broth.

I don’t see what’s wrong with taking parents to hole-in-the-walls. The only uh-oh moment came when a roach ran over the bill as I opened holder. Strangely, vermin bothers me less when it’s not in my house. James warned against going, but when he brings his mom to a typically upscale yet cramped Manhattan restaurant she’ll just embarrass him anyway by barking at the host, “I’m from Virginia; I’m used to space.”

It sounds like I’m being negative, which wasn’t the overall impression at all. I thought Om Tibet was likeable and it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re on the Jackson Heights/Elmhurst border (to confuse further, the zipcode is Woodside) and don’t feel like Thai, Indian or Latin American food. Burmese Café, a block from Om Tibet, used to fill this niche but they seem to have closed for good.

Read my whine-free review on

Om Tibet * 40-05 73rd St., Woodside, NY

Poster Children

Please tell me that using blog as a synonym for blog post isn’t standard parlance. It took me years to come to terms with using the word blog, at all, and this bastardization is making me feel icky all over again. I was hoping it was exclusive to dolts like Rosanna Scotto and/or the elderly but it’s cropping up more and more.

A good friend even used it recently, as in, “I read your blog on…” First, I was like, “Really? Someone actually reads this?” Then, I was jarred by her word usage and had to remind myself that this is someone who didn’t know who Tim Gunn was and doesn’t understand why Zach Braff is even grosser than the word blog.

I don’t take specific issue with chef Traci Des Jardins or Epi Log, but it was the first sentence of her first ever post today that made me question the evolution of English, and I could really give a rat’s ass about grammar and purity of language  (obvs).

Amy Ruth’s

1/2  I had no idea I’d be eating at Amy Ruth’s on Saturday. I’d been sent to review Uptown Renaissance across the street, but it was shuttered and blanketed by a large For Rent banner. Urgh, it figures that when I’d venture out of my usual dining radius, I’d end up on a wild chicken and waffle chase.  And I still wanted fried chicken, so crossing 116th Street was the obvious solution. And I was kind of happier because I like pork in my collard greens and Uptown Renaissance was halal.

Do restaurants really need velvet ropes? Maybe it’s all the rage above 42nd St. and I need to get out more. Luckily, it was still early and crowd control wasn’t necessary at 5pm. There were plenty of empty seats, and I’m still mystified regarding what’s so great about the upstairs dining room. I didn’t see it, but it must be amazing since it seemed like every other group that was seated in the main room made a fuss until they were relocated.


I love sweet/meat combos so honey-dipped fried chicken, The Terry Rivers (pardon my ignorance, but even after a cursory Google, I’m not sure who that is, though this Terry Rivers brightened my day) was kind of irresistible. I’m totally a diabetic waiting to happen and if anything is likely to increase my insulin resistance, it’s fried chicken swimming in honey.

Honey coated the bottom of the plate, perfect for dipping nubbins of crackly battered skin. The unexpectedly grotesque development was how ill matched honey and potatoes are. The treacly wetness soaked into my not-that-crispy-to-begin-with fries and rendered them sticky and creepy. Maybe if I closed my eyes and pretended they were sweet potato fries it would’ve be ok.


Hmm, it's a gold on gold entree. I didn’t want to copycat James’s chicken and waffle, The Al Sharpton (who needs no Googling). We both got sugar shocked, though I noticed very little maple syrup applied to his food. Instead, James also added Tabasco,  a combo that reminded me a bit too much of the lemonade diet, which I'm still kind of angry for getting sucked into. The waffles are Belgian, by the way. Wha? I'm starting to think that I'm just confused and these big-squared concoctions are standard waffles.

And yes, I got my porky greens.

Amy Ruth’s * W. 116th St., New York, NY

South Beauty

I hadn’t expected any acknowledgment of Halloween in China, and I was completely wrong. I don’t know that anyone actually does anything on October 31, but stores and restaurants were decorating with pumpkins, ghosts and witches and sales clerks donned costumes during the week leading up to the holiday.


South Beauty also was getting into the game on my Halloween eve visit. This Sichuan restaurant was kind of hard to pin down. Typical for China, it’s a chain with many branches in malls. I chose this particular Shanghai location because it sounded the most over-the-top décor-wise and it was walking distance from our hotel.


And it really was tricked out like a tycoon’s mansion. The multi-leveled bar takes up the entire front building and feels like an enormous study in a British country manor. You half expect to see men in smoking jackets and decanters of port in the wood-paneled side rooms. It all opens on to a reflecting pool lined with outdoor seating and beyond that is the restaurant proper, all glass and shades of ivory.


So, it feels upscale but it’s not expensive (by Western standards, at least—I’m pretty sure most entrees were under $10) and the food isn’t “serious” in a fine dining sense. Everything is garnished to the nines, though. We were given what seemed to be one of the prime tables, flanked by two impractical sofas. The distance between seat and plating was so vast you felt overexposed and bound to drop something from chopstick to mouth.


The service was typically Asian in that you’re constantly being watched and hawked over, yet ordering is kind of painful, involves lots of pointing and head shaking and misunderstandings abound. All over Shanghai our attempts to order fish were thwarted. I’m not sure if they had run out, the fish in question weren’t in season or what. But after about three attempts, we got an affirmative on the fish head. I don’t know why fish heads freak people out—the meat is flavorful, you don’t have to eat the eyes, plus, this one was practically disguised by sauce and chopped onions, anyway.


I also ordered gong bao ji ding. Wouldn’t you want to see how this take out favorite is cooked in its homeland (yes, kung pao chicken is a real dish not an American invention). The flavors were more pristine and vinegar-sour, though I didn’t really get hits of Sichuan peppercorn The tiny uniformly cut bits were tough to tackle with chopsticks and our slow picking meant it got cold before we could finish. You don’t want cornstarch-thickened sauces to cool too much or they turn gooey.


I had no quibble with the sautéed green beans, which was the only dish that hinted at mouth-numbing properties. I didn’t find the food to be terribly Sichuan, at least the little I know about the cuisine. Nothing we ate was emphatically spicy, and the ma la sensation was absent. I’m not sure if that was due to weird ordering or a toned down preparation. I’m always wary of food in pretty surroundings while traveling. We were similarly underwhelmed at easy-on-the-eyes Celadon in Bangkok, which served elegant yet flat Thai food. I would love a stylish setting and kick ass food.


More notable was the freak show that kept parading through the restaurant as we ate. A Chinese woman, clearly a manager, in a skirt suit with a witches hat, was accompanied by two guys wearing Scream masks and they would periodically trail through the room blaring an electronic device making tinny, wailing ghost sounds. We were like, “oh shit, I hope they don’t come over here,” kind of how I feel about the Martians at Mars 2112, but you’re asking for trouble at Time’s Square theme restaurant.

They stopped at every table to try and convince skeptical diners to stop by the bar for their Halloween party. On their second pass through, they upped the ante and offered a free drink. I always feel guilted into taking unwanted coupons and amNY’s on the street, so I was like do we try to sneak out after dinner (you have to walk through the bar to exit) or stay for a damn cocktail? Free is good, plus I wanted to see what the hell was going to transpire. Despite a predominately western clientele, I was fairly certain we were the only Americans in the restaurant.

We were eventually accosted and planted on bar stools next to the only other takers, a middle-aged German trio. The huge space was empty and overstaffed by kids who looked like they’d be breaking American child labor laws. They were really trying. Cobwebs were everywhere, spooky masks had been affixed on available surfaces, a spastic green laser light eventually made an appearance, as did a fog machine. House of Wax subtitled in Chinese was being projected onto the wall. Classic scary songs like, you know “My Humps” and “SexyBack” were blaring. A mojito with so much mint it was nearly a salad and a fruity thing in a martini glass were placed in front of us. Do we pay? Do we tip? Did we ask for these? It seemed best to just start sipping and go with it.

Then, a teenage bartender who was like 5’4, 80 pounds with white oxford shirt, suspenders and a shaggy, mod moptop started flair bartending. I really should’ve taken photos but I was so disoriented that I couldn’t focus. Plus, the staff to patron ratio was so stifling you felt like your every move was being watched.

Each group that passed through, the 30-ish lady boss (who reminded me of a former supervisor, a London-Educated Chinese Malaysian I dubbed The Cyborg because she had no warmth or emotion like she’d been raised in a laboratory. I used to joke that she’d go into the bathroom and just wash her hands [I never saw her in a stall] so everyone would think she was human. Cyborgs don’t cut loose and they get drunk on one glass of wine. They also don’t let their departments leave even an hour early the Friday before a holiday weekend even when the entire company has gone home. ) tried corralling them to stay with about 50% success rate.

Now, they really needed someone to show them how to party. I was all we need to fuck this shit up and show them what Halloween is all about. Part of me wanted to TP the entire immaculately groomed grounds and start egging all the spotless floor to ceiling plate glass window. See, it’s not all about treats, ok? Tricks might bring tears to a cyborg’s eyes.

We had nothing better to do so we stayed for a few more drinks. And a few more parties had settled into sofas in adjoining rooms, so we didn’t feel so on the spot. While peculiar, the bartenders at least knew cocktails by memory and were able to cobble together a whisky sour for me. At our even emptier hotel bar in Beijing, the young bartender seemed super eager to make drinks, handed us a cocktail menu, but had to consult a recipe book for everything. He painstakingly measured out every little drop, shook just so many times, then went and washed everything out by hand before giving us our beverages. If there had been more than two customers, he would’ve freaked. And these tuned out to be $8 drinks, quite high for Beijing. My Chinese bar experiences made me edgy and nervous for the staff.

The manager began consulting with some of her staff and clearly seemed to be talking about us. You don’t need any Chinese language skills to know you’re being talked about. She approached us to explain, “I’m so sorry, but only the first drink is free.” Well, duh, we fully expected to pay for the two additional rounds and had to reassure her that we knew and that was fine.

That exchange crystallized Chinese-ness for me. Like they’re very rah rah and desperate to win over foreigners but when you take them up on their hospitality and settle in, they start to worry. It kind of made me want to TP the place for real, just to see how they’d react to a genuine problem.


South Beauty * 881 Yan'an Zhong Lu, Shanghai, China

Restaurant interior photos from

La Casa del Pollo Peruano

1/2  Not too long ago I was craving South American pollo a la brasa of any type. I ended up at one of the numerous Marios because it was on the later side and they were open. But slightly preferring Peruvian over Colombian, my original intention was nearby La Casa del Pollo. Now, I’ve had a chance to try both.

Awkward looking yet delicious half chicken

What I didn’t know was that this bustling restaurant was nearly half-Chinese. Sure, rotisserie chicken meals with rice and beans sit at the top of the oversized paper menu, but if you look at the combo options pork fried rice appears. Then, as you skim downward, chop suey, lo mein and sweet and sour pork appear too.


At least I was able to finally try lomo saltado, a true fusion dish of stir-fried beef, onions and tomatoes that I’m pretty sure contains soy sauce. It’s the neither Peruvian nor Chinese addition of french fries that’s kind of strange and compelling (I’m fascinated by non-American recipes, or heck American ones too, that call for fries. Maltese Bacon has a Vietnamese rendition that actually sounds edible).


Cheap and simple, Casa del Pollo is totally the kind of thing lacking in my immediate neighborhood. As much as people think Smith St. is the shit (culinarily speaking), that’s not really true and doesn’t help those in the hinterlands. I would gladly take roast chicken and soy sauced french fries over bad Chinese and mediocre pizza.

Read my review.

La Casa del Pollo * Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, NY