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1/2 I’ve frequently suspected as much, but now I’m convinced that my timing is hopelessly off kilter. From now on whenever I get the urge to dine out, I’m going to wait 45-minutes to realign my bad luck.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve arrived at a restaurant, been quoted a semi-reasonable wait that eventually doubles, then get seated at the same time as another party that’s just arrived, crammed in right next to them only to have the entire room clear out within minutes. There’s something infuriating about being stuck only six inches from the only other patrons in an empty room.

Park Slope’s new Ghenet branch did nothing to change my exasperated view of the cosmos. Saturday night I was considering Korhogo 126 (primarily because it’s walkable from my apartment) but opted for straight up Ethiopian at the last minute. I know better than to attempt recently opened restaurants on weekend nights but I’m drawn to patience-trying situations like um, Marcus Samuelsson to new projects (trying to stay on point with the prettied-up African food and all).


The space is pretty, dimly lit, with lots of geometric cut out metal screens, and slightly incongruous on still-busted Fourth Avenue. When we arrived at 9:30 another couple was waiting at the bar and we were quoted a 20-minute wait. I could handle that. The staff seemed friendly enough, too. After ordering a glass of shiraz, the other duo was seated. From that point on not a one of the 12 tables budged despite numerous groups having finished their meals. On two different occasions our hopes were raised and we were promised that a table was about to open up…but no.

I should’ve just left. I think that should be my new M.O. because my heart can’t take it (I don’t mean that hyperbolically; not only am I newly diabetic but have also had inexplicably high blood pressure since my twenties. This past week I’ve been trying to get off my medication because it slows my heart rate and I’m convinced that it’s been messing with my metabolism for the past seven years. The downside is that I’m so twitchy and anxiety-ridden I can barely sit still). I’m so impatient that I practically had a stroke by the time a seat opened up 40 minutes later.

I don’t like to take circumstances beyond a staff’s control out on them, and rarely do (I just internalize it, hence the blood pressure) but what makes me snap is when everyone around me is oblivious and enjoying themselves when I’m being inconvenienced. It’s not about entitlement but about fairness. What tipped my indecision over being annoyed into full blown annoyance was when the threesome who’d been waiting 15 minutes that was seated directly next to us at the same time received apologies for the long wait and were served first while we were given no such acknowledgement for waiting almost three times as long. My impression was clouded beyond repair.

And eating while angry is no fun. Plus, James wanted to kill me because he had zero interest in Ethiopian food in the first place, ranking it down with Filipino food, which are fighting words because I’m totally an apologist for Filipino cuisine. But he swayed me a bit. I mean, after being traumatized and hungry do you really want to eat little blobs of mush with your hands?

I sort of did. I dug the injera, the slightly sourdoughy, chamois-smooth flatbread used as an edible utensil. I don’t know that they actually used traditional teff, as the grain is hard to come by in the U.S., but I was kind of hoping so since it’s a low glycemic product and I’m now all about blood sugar friendly bread-like items.

Sambusa, a.k.a. chicken turnover

We ordered a combo, which allows a meat and two vegetables per person. I quickly learned that wett means spicy and aletcha means mild. That’s all you have to know plus main ingredient to make a decision. I’m fairly certain that Ethiopian food in Ethiopia (and perhaps other parts of NYC) is genuinely hot. That wasn’t the case here, which didn’t surprise me given the location.


The dark mound in the center is doro wett, which is a little tricky because there’s a whole drumstick and hard-boiled egg in there. The presentation almost feels Malaysian, lots of complexly spiced scoops but on injera rather than a banana leaf, but the actual flavor of the chicken in particular reminded me of mole. It must be all of the spices working together and probably attributable to the berbere.

The top left is sega wett, beef, but despite the name wasn’t exactly the same as the chicken. The carrots and beans are obvious, lentils are in the front right and the two pools of an unspecified bean weren’t far off from frijoles. Yes, again with the Mexican food comparison.

I’ve long felt that I need to learn more about regional African food–I’m interested in Ghanian edibles–but other cuisines always seem to take precedence when I’m out and about. And after this underwhelming experience I’m afraid that I will have to convince a new dining partner to accompany me on my mission.

Ghenet * 348 Douglass St., Brooklyn, NY

Organic Wood-Fired Balsamic-Glazed Duck Embryo on a Bed of Microgreens

Glancing at my wardrobe, pantry and home décor, it’s obvious that I love me some Target (with a huge proportion of above items also originating from Ikea and Old Navy—yes, I’m cheap with middling tastes). I buy the occasional Archer Farms product, but I’m totally not seeing the logical connection between so-so foodstuffs gussied up to sound gourmet and Andrew Zimmerman, the Bizarre Foods guy and Pepto Bismol spokesman who has become the new SuperTarget Meal Adventure Guide.

Indigestion, diarrhea and larvae-eating are going to make middle America want to try Spinach & Goat Cheese Torino Wood-Fire Pizza or Strawberry Basil Balsamic Vinegar?

What do I know? I was also confused by Wanda Sykes voicing the mouthy Applebee’s apple. Ha, which has been scrapped for the new Applebee’s new emphasis on quality, better finger foods and improved bar scene. I’m inclined to believe this new CEO knows her business because I never eat at IHOP but on my last visit I totally ordered the stuffed French toast, which apparently is this lady exec’s legacy.

Despite not being directly related, I must say that I appreciate how even diarrhea isn’t immune to user-generated content commercials.

Crochet balut from joylimos on etsy

Centro Vinoteca

I’ve decided that Wednesday nights right after work are perfect for dining out and that there’s no shame in being a mid-week early bird. Last Wednesday I was on an inexplicable burger rampage and this Wednesday one my irrationally un-favorite cuisines, Italian (I think I’m turned off by the blind American fetishizing of Tuscany. You can’t turn on a home and garden channel without getting the crap scared out of you by a hideous Olive Garden-inspired kitchen oozing travertine, marble, granite and horrific grape and/or wine motifs. And you can only watch so many leathery divorcees looking at brokedown yet charming Tuscan villas on House Hunters International) began to seem alluring for no reason at all.

This is not Centro Vinoteca

You have to go with these gut feelings. I considered newish, nearby, weirdly located Bar Tano, but ultimately nixed Brooklyn. I wasn’t up for anyplace super new either. Centro Vinoteca is one of those places I was never inclined to visit when it opened, so why not now. It is a handsome little space: clean, modern and thoroughly non-Tuscan.


We chose one item from the list of piccolini, which are more like bar snacks than small plates, though you could certainly cobble together a meal from them. The off-white sauce tasted almost like pure garlic, and it sort of was; agliata is no more than garlic, bread crumbs and vinegar. Our cauliflower fritters had a parmesan zing but could’ve used a little more salt and this comes from a chronic under-salter. If I think something’s under seasoned, it’s seriously in need of saline.


The grilled shrimp with panelle was a smart choice. I’m not sure if it was an herb or a  dressing component, but something lemony lifted up the whole dish while the light chickpea wedges were earthy and Indian-feeling, possibly from cumin, not like the Sicilian versions I’ve had before.

I didn’t take pictures of food that wasn’t mine but an appetizer special of soft-shell crab and favas with an aioli looked amazing. I don’t like ordering the same dishes as fellow diners so I was polite and conceded this super spring-like pairing to James.


I’ve never been into pasta (though I love Asian noodles) and am presently starch-limiting, but figured pastas were a strength and were unlikely to be massively portioned. No, they weren’t gut-bustingly huge, but mine was heavy and wintery considering the weather (this was the day my office decided to prematurely turn on the air conditioning). It was a strange warm day for rich boar ragu, hefty gnocchi and fried onions. Abstractly, I enjoyed the deep, bittersweet flavors but I was burning up; the sun streaming through the floor-to-ceiling windows overheated the small space like an oven. There’s a good reason to only dine after sundown.

I got into the quartino in lieu of single glasses of wine, which yields about a glass and a half per serving. I tried two wines from Alto Adige, a rose first and a pinot noir with the ragu. The boar could’ve handled a bigger red, but I’m not a genius at pairing.

Off the subject, but I really liked the woman who cleared plates and that might’ve been a server (I don’t understand front of the house restaurant dynamics). All the others were perfectly professional young, metro/homo sexual men, ours possessed a vague Karim Rashid look. But the lone female could’ve come straight from a New Jersey diner or possibly a woman’s prison. She was a little rough around the edges, kind of wild-eyed, tattooed, middle aged (or maybe just a candidate for 10 Years Younger) and said things that a poised male staff member couldn’t get away with. Upon asking us how we liked our food, to which we enthusiastically replied “oh, we liked it.” she glanced down at our just-shy-of-clean plates and kind of huskily cackled, “I can tell.” A West Village guy can’t tell you that you’ve been a pig without being rude.

Also, I don’t understand young women who go out to a relatively nice restaurant with tons of creative options and order a salad, pasta and tap water. I would just as well stay home with a nice aluminum tin of Pasta Hut or actually partake in Carroll Gardens’s fine Italian offerings.

Centro Vinoteca * 74 Seventh Ave. S., New York, NY

First Things First

In a hopeless attempt at becoming less me-centric I’ve finally gotten my new URL up and running. should still work just so old links don’t break, but from here on out it’s Goodies First all the time.

Le Train Bleu

I had no idea there was a restaurant on the sixth floor of Bloomingdale’s built to mimic a dining car. The rectangular room complete with overhead racks and pretend scenic windows is mildly fun in a stodgy way. I imagine this is the sort of place you’d take a hypothetical elderly aunt, but the only aunt I even vaguely see on a regular basis, which is almost never, is in her forties. Actually, that might be perfect; out-of-towners of all ages might relish eating on a fake train inside a department store.


It’s very possible that this fusty peculiarity is just an unknown to me because I’ve only shopped at Bloomingdale’s once in my life. When I worked in the neighborhood two jobs ago I briefly popped in looking for an interview suit so that I could move on to a different office-centric neighborhood. Unsurprisingly, I found what I needed at an Edison, New Jersey’s Macy’s after applying for a credit card to get the 20% discount (and after an I.Q. test and four interviews, I remained job offer-less).

As might be expected at certain old Manhattan lunchy-shoppy places, the food tends to be pricier than it needs to be, hardly exciting, though rarely wretched. Hotel-like fare that gets the job done and will fade from memory within weeks (ok, days, but I have an elephantine memory).


Sweet, rich and gamey are pluses to me so the pheasant pate containing pistachios and dates made for a decent sharable starter. You don’t expect Bar Boulud charcuterie wizardry. The Cumberland sauce (typically a tangy jellied affair based on red currents and orange zest) gave the potentially French dish a heavier Britishness.


A burger is a burger.


The togarashi-spiced tuna on soba was my attempt at something non-heavy. The noodles were a bit mealy and kind of overwhelming, but thankfully the tuna was kept rare and the wasabi aioli squiggles added a little punch. Plus, it’s not every meal that you get your lemon wedge wrapped in yellow seed-stopping mesh.


Read my balanced take at

Le Train Bleu * 1000 Third Ave., 6th fl., New York, NY


Ideally, I wanted a burger in the financial district or lower east side because that’s the easiest foot and subway-wise, but everything I kept stumbling on was East Village focused: Back Forty, Seymour Burton or Royale. I feel weird ordering a burger in a 20+ entrée place so it was no to Seymour Burton, plus I can’t abide by the English muffin in lieu of bun. A coworker had been raving about the burger at Back Forty but I didn’t want to think about organics or what wine to pair with the damn thing. I just wanted a no nonsense, completely satisfying burger and a pint of beer. Simple. And that was totally Royale. 

It’s wise to believe the sandwich board outside proclaiming, “The best burger in NYC.” The hand-scrawled statement was bolstered by every eating patron inside the unassuming-rather-than-divey bar on Ave. C having one in front of them. I can’t even imagine what kind of freak would opt for chicken fingers or the B.L.T.

This is an untouched medium-rare burger with American cheese. Despite saying English muffins put me off, a slightly sweet, firm enough brioche is fine. This bun held up until the very end when the juices finally started dissolving the bread. But that was my own fault because I let my last third sit for a while. I wanted a second beer (Blue Moon, if that makes any difference) but to drink with my remaining food not simply for drinking's sake and well, the service is on the sluggish side and the wet bun became impatient (not me, of course, I'm always wildly patient).


The medium-rare cleaved closer to rare, nice and pink, which I appreciated for keeping all the fattiness and moistness intact.


A messy cross-section with bacon.


Thin, light and crisp onion rings were a smart choice to share because I was fine with only a few. Fries, even bad fries, won’t last long in my vicinity and since I’ve unwillingly avoided potatoes for the last few months I might go wild. The only downside is that there was a substantial pool of oil in the bottom of the basket, which threatened to sog up the delicate rings.

Royale * 157 Ave. C, New York, NY

A Pint of Mayo A Day Keeps the Doctor Away

I don’t celebrate Passover (or any religious holiday, really), have zero interest in Earth Day and have never understood the allure of outdoor dining in NYC (or anywhere, hence my fascination/revulsion with Gourmet's perpetual alfresco porn. April's issue contained an Italian maritime doozy, which I haven't had the wherewithal to analyze) so there’s like nothing food-related on the internet to properly distract me today.


However, I will admit I’m fascinated by the German man who eats 12,000 calories a day and can’t gain weight. A pint of mayonnaise a day?!

Not so much the financial analyst fast food stunt. Uh, this was already done in like 2005 when it was timely. Oh, and by this guy, too. But what would this city be without rich people thinking every idea they have is original, genius and worth exploiting for profit?

Sunday Night Special: Chopped Wing Bean Salad & Clams with Basil and Chiles

Sunday nights are the worst. There’s always something vaguely important that I’m supposed to be doing so I come up with a cooking project (or just watch lots of TV—I’m very disturbed that the quippy, marginally humorous talking head commentary concept has been co-opted by home and gardening shows, like you really need little pseudo-comedians yukking it up about landscaping jobs gone bad) to occupy my time instead. I’d probably be rich by now if I knew how to tame procrastination.

I was supposed to be doing my state taxes (I got my tiny federal refund way back in early Feb. because I’m quick to claim cash) and writing a review of the scary renovated Palm Court in the Plaza Hotel, but instead I decided to make my own nam prik pao.

There are a million minutely different variations. I chose one from David Thompson’s Classic Thai Cuisine that’s fairly sweet. I love the palm sugariness but it could’ve used a few extra chiles. After making it, I noticed Kasma Loha-unchit’s rendition used double the dried peppers. Well, he does call his jam rather than the more commonly used paste.

Strangely, I never use blogs for recipes and stick to cookbooks like an old lady. It's an odd bias considering I skim 50+ sites almost daily. But after the fact, I noticed there was a useful nam prik pao recipe on Chez Pim.

Roasted Chile Jam
Nam Prik Pao

4 cups oil
4 cups shallots, sliced lengthwise
2 cups garlic, sliced lengthwise
1 cup dried shrimp, rinsed and dried
10 dried long red chiles, deseeded and chopped
1 cup palm sugar
1/2 cup thick tamarind water
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoon fish sauce

Heat oil and separately deep-fry the shallots and garlic until golden. Add the shrimp and chiles and deep-fry for 30 seconds or until fragrant; drain. Puree the deep-fried ingredients together in a food processor, moistening with 1 cup of the oil from the deep-frying to facilitate the blending. Transfer the puree to a medium pot, bring to a boil, then add the palm sugar, tamarind water, salt and fish sauce. Simmer, stirring regularly, for about 5 minutes, or until quite thick and tasting sweet, sour and salty. Store in an airtight container.

Makes an insane amount, maybe three cups, possibly closer to four but it doesn’t really go bad and for all the effort you might as well do it up big.

I’m not a Thai food expert, obviously, but I think this not-crazy-spicy paste can kind of be added to anything. You can use it as a vegetable dip, to season soups like tom yum, and a few spoonfuls gussy up stir-fries, too.

I specifically made mine as a component for a wing bean salad (yam tua poo) I’d made a few summers ago. There were leftover rotisserie chicken and green beans in the fridge that needed to be used up, and thought of this recipe No, there aren’t wing beans around these parts but I survived.

I couldn’t even say if this is a legitimate recipe—I’ve never seen anything like it and similar ones online includes ground pork. I haven’t cooked much from Joyce Jue’s Savoring Southeast Asia because it seems more like a coffee table book (that it’s a Williams-Sonoma book weirds me out) but authentic or not, this is a tasty dish.


Tamarind water, fish sauce, fried shallots, palm sugar, fried garlic. I didn't make the shallots from scratch because I only had two bulbs on hand and this plastic tub needed using up.


Chopped shrimp and chiles. I didn't deep-fry the ingredients, but rather sauteed on high heat with a generous amount of oil.


Raw puree


Final glossy product

Chopped Wing Bean Salad
Yam Tua Poo

1 tablespoon salt
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, about 6 ounces
1/2 pound winged beans, long beans or green beans, trimmed
1/4 cup unsweetened grated dried coconut
1 red jalapeño chile, seeded and thinly sliced

1/3 cup coconut cream
2 teaspoons roasted chile paste
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoon fried shallots
1 ½ tablespoons fried garlic
3 tablespoons unsalted roasted peanuts, crushed
Coconut cream for garnish (optional)

Poach the chicken breast (you don’t need me to detail that) or use leftover skinned, shredded chicken parts like I did. Dark meat isn’t scary.

Blanch the beans, keeping them green and crunchy.

Toast the coconut in a dry pan until it turns golden. Set aside.

Combine chicken, beans and chopped chile (I never see red jalapeños or even Anaheims and used a few tiny Thai chiles instead) in a large bowl.

In a separate smaller bowl, mix coconut cream, roasted chile paste (the nam prik pao), lime juice, fish sauce and sugar.

Add the dressing to the chicken and beans and toss. Sprinkle with toasted coconut, fried shallots and garlic and peanuts. Mix before serving.

Serves 4-6


If I didn’t know better I would say that the end product looks like a green bean casserole, canned onions and all. But the creaminess is all-coconutty and Campbell’s free. I would’ve preferred more beans to chicken but I’d underestimated the amount of leftover vegetables and overestimated how much meat was still on the chicken. Sweet and spicy is the overall theme, and it makes for a great not-terribly-carby lunch, if you care about that sort of thing. Even if you don’t, it’s a good lunch or light dinner.

That was all I was going to make but I had picked up a couple pounds of clams the day before, so I searched Dancing Shrimp: Favorite Thai Recipes for Seafood by Kasma Loha-unchit for ideas and came up with an easy recipe that also used my nam prik: clams stir-fried with roasted chile sauce and basil (hoi pad nahm prik pow).


I would’ve gotten into trouble on Top Chef because there was a tiny bit of grit in a few of the shells. Not enough to ruin the dish, but you definitely don’t want to hear a crunch when eating mollusks. Instead of using the prescribed water or broth I threw in a few tablespoons of the thin coconut milk leftover in the can from the wing bean salad. It upped the richness quotient a notch and mixed with the chile paste and clam liquor created a sauce that was so good I didn’t mind eating it with brown jasmine rice.


It’s not that I’m forced into eating at chains on my occasional New Jersey shopping forays, it’s that I like eating at chains when I leave the city. That’s why when posed with the premise “let’s try a nice suburban restaurant this weekend,” I became stumped.

Obviously, nice is subjective. I think it means sit-down, non-diner/take-out, not necessarily expensive. New Jersey certainly has edible diversity as written about recently in the New York Times, but deep-fried hotdogs and subs weren’t what we were discussing. Technically, Blue Hill at Stone Barns is a nice suburban restaurant but I don’t know any other places of that caliber in an hour and a half radius (I’m open to suggestions). I hate Italian-American food and anything even veering into continental territory, that’s the stuff I fear getting roped into.

Newark Portuguese sounded fun and I’ve always felt remiss in never trying any of the Ironbound offerings. But we like shopping in Edison and have never sampled any of the gazillion Indian restaurants in nearby South Plainfield, either. As usual, Asian won out and I picked Moksha, South Indian but not vegetarian. And I didn’t quite adhere to the non-chain criteria either, as the owners have a mini-empire in the area.

First, we were forced into an unexpected detour to East Brunswick and were almost swayed by the Bonefish Grill. I had a shopping list that could only be satisfied by the giant Hong Kong Supermarket in South Plainfield. If you’re accustomed to the little ratty ones in Manhattan, Brooklyn or Queens, it would bring a tear to your eye. They’re not even super clean or full of hyper fresh produce, they’re just spacious with shopping-cart friendly aisles, non-chaotic fish counter and tons of variety you can actually browse without being body checked by elderly Chinese ladies.


Well, it turned out that our favorite HK Supermarket location has given up the ghost (that phrase weirds me out, I never use it, and I’ve seen it countless times in 2008 so I will jump on the bandwagon). Damn them, and it was kind of fitting since the way we originally stumbled upon the grocery store was looking for a non-urban Goodwill that was supposed to be in the same strip mall but had gone kaput and has turned into an Big Lots, which I didn’t have time to explore because we had to track down the next nearest HK Supermarket in East Brunswick.

An old Vietnam vet from Princeton that was in a Thai cooking class I took in the early ‘00s was raving about the huge HK Supermarket in East Brunswick and I recalled Lloyd’s wise words while fiddling with Google Maps via Blackberry.

As it turned out, East Brunswick was no South Plainfield and the best of the Chinese chain is gone for good. I still got what I needed, though: Thai basil, chiles, clams, rau ram (which I never see in Brooklyn), palm sugar, fried shallots, rice vinegar, pork belly, preserved radish, spicy bamboo shoots and bean curd.

But yes, nice suburban restaurants. I suppose Moksha is a little fancy in that the décor feels upscale Pier 1 rather than Christmas light garish, all earth tones, natural materials, and subtle water features, Oh, and things like rice, naan and chutneys come with a surcharge. Like how no free chips and salsa signals Mexican food to be taken seriously (not that it necessarily tastes better). I didn’t take any non-food photos, though.


A chicharon-like puff instead of the typical papadum. I don’t know if this is a traditional snack or made up. It’s kind of like pani poori but not really. There were spices imbedded in the white crackly blob and I’m certain that it was meatless.


Onion bhajis and chile fritters, a.k.a. Indian jalapeno poppers, were kind of run of the mill, but definitely not heavy or too greasy. I meant to order a another more salad-y appetizer but forgot.


Ok, all of the entrees look the same on the surface, but the flavors were all distinct, quite hot and if you scrutinized the bowls, you would notice that the murky shades hinted at green, brown and orange. I originally ordered a whole fried fish that they were out of, which is what forced me into a second-choice of shrimp, causing a curry overload.

Bottom: Karuvaepillai Eral Masala. This shrimp masala was the herbiest, the green likely came from curry leaves and almost seemed Thai in comparison to the others. The spice didn’t catch you until you’d chewed half a mouthful and burning ensued with full force.

Top: Iguru Mamsam. Minus the meat, lamb hot pot almost seemed Cajun, super dense, cuminy, hot and oil-slicked but tangy from chopped tomato.


Guthi Vonkaiya Koora. The tiny mushy eggplants were said to come with sesame seeds. I didn’t see any seeds, so I wonder if they were pulverized into the sauce.

There’s definitely more exploring to be done in South Plainfield’s Indian hub and I’ll make it to Newark eventually. However, I’m still kind of curious about better than average, even mildly creative American food that’s not a Kitchen Nightmare waiting to happen.

Moksha * 1655 Oak Tree Rd., Edison, NJ

Don’t Cry For Me

Despite feigning the ability to think independently, I’m frequently swayed by media and the opinions of strangers. Therefore, I have booked a trip to Buenos Aires for the first week of June. Is it the poor man's Barcelona? The Prague of the ‘00s? (Slate, Sun, Newsweek, Times ) Or an annoying place that Brown grads have turned into an Andean Williamsburg?

All I know is that there’s a great exchange rate, a shitload of beef, that June is nearly winter and that there’s a hotel that bizarrely bears my name. Beyond that I’m clueless.

Does anyone have any first (or second or third) hand knowledge of the city?