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Chain Links: Fine Art Edition

An LA couple is trying to raise $12,000 for an “art project” that involves photographing all 206 Sizzler’s in the US. There are only 146 Cheesecake Factories in the nation. Could I get a subsidy? [via Eater LA]

A Shoney’s memorial is being erected at the Charlton, WV site of the original restaurant, and a local artist is requesting fans send in memorabilia, bought or heisted. What’s up with these artists and their chain fixations? [via Slashfood]

Chains are touting cheaper drinks to lure in diners. Those Mudslides can really add up.

The Chicago Tribune’s dining section reviewing signature items at fast food chains only serves as a reminder of how damn highbrow NYC is. Even the Post wouldn’t review Cheddar Bay Biscuits.

In Other Words: BBQ’s Is for Lovers

The only thing that raised my spirits during hours literally being numbed by boredom (and possibly pinched nerves) on a wooden jury duty bench was Precious actress, Gabourey Sidibe’s mention of Dallas BBQ in a New York article:

“This one guy, I’ve deleted his number. I would text him at 7 p.m., and he’d be like, ‘I’m at BBQ’s.’ But the thing is, you don’t go to BBQ’s with your boys, you go with a girl. Then he’d call me at eleven. I’m like, ‘Why don’t you call me at six when you’re ready to go to BBQ’s?’”

Hey, I’ve been to BBQ with both genders. Platonic? Romantic? People in all types of relationships can enjoy a good onion loaf and Texas-sized Blue Bull.

This morning, double happiness: no jury duty and Ed Levine’s review of Dallas BBQ on Serious Eats. Chains are hot!

I just realized I haven't updated my take on Dallas BBQ since 2002 (and I've certainly been there since)–this needs to be rectified.

Meating Out Justice

Meat eaters

Not only is Denmark the happiest country in the world, they also eat the most meat according to a fun graphic from Good. Correlation? 321.7 pounds of meat per capita makes an awful lot of frikadeller.
Surprising to some, the US is only in fifth place with 275.1 pounds per capita. Surprising to me: Argentina being nowhere in the top ten—my week in Buenos Aires was beyond beefy.

Taste Good

1/2 Sometimes you need distance to see the silliness in food debates. It’s doubtful that anyone outside NYC cares about who serves the best fried chicken (though to be fair that’s more of a discussion than a debate, and a fun one). And I can say with 100% certainty that the average American has no idea what Ampang yong tau foo is, let alone whether it’s Singaporean or Malaysian. But Malaysia is all cranky over Singapore’s successful food branding (at least in the region—once again, I think they may be overestimating a worldwide perception that Singapore is a culinary destination) and are trying to play catch up.

As a Westerner who’s been to both Singapore and Malaysia, I know a very obvious way that Malaysia could differentiate themselves and appeal to global foodies: artisanal cred. Coconut milk squeezed from the flesh the not a can, cendol colored green with pandan not dye, curries from freshly pounded rempahs not packaged pastes, satay grilled over charcoal not gas. Slow food, Southeast Asian-style.

The only real effect this article had on me, though, was the need for a bowl of laksa. Lemak, a.k.a. Singaporean-style, I’m afraid. I just don’t trust that they’re going to get assam version right here. Copious amounts of coconut milk can mask more ills than sour fishy broth.

Taste good singapore laksa

The version at Elmhurst’s Taste Good was better than I had expected. I say that because in Malaysia, as in many countries, street food is specialized and often kept to a handful of choices. How can a menu with hundreds of offerings all be good? And Taste Good uses the term laksa very loosely with a list of 35 dishes beneath that heading that include Hong Kong-style beef noodle soup, Hokkien mee, tom yum mee hoon, and both curry and assam laksas. All over the place. 

The Singapore kari laksa, in their parlance, was creamy with enough spice to cut through the richness and contained nice fat rice noodles. The menu gives no hint what the toppings might be, and there was a surprising hodgepodge: small shrimp, half a hard boiled egg, shredded chicken, slices of fish cake, bean sprouts and my favorite, fried bean curd puffs. These spongy squares absorb the broth and dispense a mouthful when you bite into them. The only thing missing was sambal and lime wedges. 

Taste good rojak

Rojak is dressed with an eerily dark sauce of sweetened, tangy prawn paste. I love it but I know many who can’t stand the smell of belacan. A woman, who appeared to be in charge, was asking a non-Malaysian Asian diner, “Doesn’t the smell bother you?” Apparently, it didn’t. Love or hate, no one is neutral on the smell of roasted shrimp paste.

Hiding under all the black goo topped with sesame seeds were jicama, pineapple, cuttlefish, cucumber, chopped peanuts and chunks of crueler. After sitting awhile, the fried dough performs the opposite function of the tasty bean curd in the laksa. I drunkenly picked at leftover rojak that evening and almost choked on all of the pungent sauce that oozed from the now mushy and disintegrating cruelers.

Taste good rendang noodles

I’ve never heard of dry curry beef rendang noodles but here they are. Rendang seems more suited to rice, if you ask me.

For NYC Malaysian food with a Chinese bent, I was satisfied by Taste Good. Purists, I’m sure would find details to nitpick.

Taste Good * 82-18 45th Ave., Elmhurst, NY

Laurelhurst Market

3/4 A dating anniversary just doesn’t have the same gravitas as a wedding anniversary, but after a decade of monogamous non-marriage I would take steak over the traditional ten-year-gift of tin, anyway. I almost always happen to be out of town on Labor Day, which I count as my first date (James thinks it was sometime in October), so I get to try a variety of non-NYC celebratory restaurants.

Laurelhurst Market is a butcher shop by day, restaurant showcasing these cuts and more by night. I swear this now-chic heavily windowed restaurant across the street from Music Millennium used to be a Plaid Pantry. It might’ve still been a Plaid Pantry this time last year. Who knows? Such is the nature of the new Portland, which isn’t all that different from the old Portland except now the food is better.

Laurelhurst market cocktail

During a leisurely dinner, I like to start with a cocktail then move onto wine with the food but it never really works that way. We only spent a few minutes at the bar where I ordered a bourbon-based, bitters and champagne-topped Seelbach, before our table was ready. No, I’m not complaining, especially since every single other Portland dining experience involved epic waits.

Laurelhurst market suppli al telefono

Suppli al telefono were super Mozarella-y fritters that also contained risotto and short ribs. Normally, not a fan of arancini, a Carroll Gardens staple, these appealed because they didn’t rely so heavily on rice.

Laurelhurst market marrow bones

Marrow bones enhanced by olive oil and herbs, in this case pistou, are wonderful with toast. These particular bones seemed lacking in enough gelatinous goodness. I like more goopy chunks and really put the little fork to work scraping out every last fatty bit.

Laurelhurst market flat iron steak

My flat iron steak accompanied by chimichurri was tender and medium-rare as requested. I would’ve given it higher marks until I tasted James’s medium culotte. It wasn’t the cuts of meat that were so different in flavor but the char. Mine needed a little more contrast between pink center and surface. The three leftover pieces were a great room temperature pre-breakfast the following morning.

Laurelhusrt market culotte steak

Niman Ranch culotte with charred tomato salsa.

Laurelhurst market pocha beans, summer squash

I’d never heard of pocha beans before this trip and ended up eating them both here and at Clyde Common. The white legumes were tossed with squash and seasoned with thyme. My one attempt at a healthy dish.

Laurelhurst market dulce de leche cheesecake

Sometimes I’m indifferent to dessert after so much rich food but in this case more richness was in order. I love all things caramel-ly and this dulce de leche cheesecake was perfection. I ate more berries in my one week in Oregon than I had all summer combined.

Laurelhurst Market * 3155 Burnside St., Portland, OR

Neverending Shame


I'm starting to enjoy this recession era more and more, though it might be dismaying to the likes of Gael Greene. A few years ago I brought an Olive Garden doggie bag to a Belle & Sebastian show like a non-ironic loser. Now the OG is a reverse status symbol for embarrassed expense accounters.

Chicken-Fried Riblets


Being a food introvert, when I a trend starts getting out control I step aside rather than jumping into the fray. Not so that I can be one of those “I’m already over it” people, but because why bother adding to the noise? Quick, I’d better step up my drinking fresh coconut juice while walking down the street game.

So, no fried chicken yapping from me. New York has a slew of fried chicken coverage this week, though. I was saddened to note that New Caporal got fifth place out of a tasting of five fast food joints. Granted, I haven’t been there in ages so maybe their handiwork has gone downhill, or maybe I’m just partial to their gun-toting chick mascot. Popeye’s came in at number one.

Also buried deep in all this fried chicken coverage is the news that Stephen Tanner, formerly of Egg and Pies and Thighs, will be bringing some chain flavor to the old Black Betty space. “Tanner says will serve bar food like Applebee’s, ‘but better.’” Williamsburg riblets!

New Caporal photo from Eating in Translation


Did I love it? More now than ever, though I wouldn't sway from the breakfast menu.

Elmer’s is yet another Northwest chain that has jumped on the seasonal/local bandwagon. In my day they were like a regional Denny’s. Really, they still are but now tout Dungeness crab, Walla Walla onions and the like. But being for regular Joes they serve Boyd’s coffee not Stumptown.

Boyd’s is the brand of coffee they might provide in your office break room. I went to school with a Boyd’s heir, which is nothing like being a Hilton. This kid was kind of geeky and had a bowl cut well beyond the age and era where that was acceptable or in style.

I was looking forward to a big Elmer’s breakfast because I rarely have the opportunity to eat that meal properly with the whole shebang: eggs, potatoes, smoked meat, toast and maybe more. In my normal life, I just eat oatmeal or granola bars in the morning, on weekends I’m vehemently opposed to brunch and on vacation I can never get out the door before noon. I thought the beauty of Elmer’s was that breakfast was available all day, so I was saddened to be presented with a lunch menu at 12:30pm on Labor Day while en route to Mount Hood. Bah.

Elmer's grilled cheese

I consoled myself with a grilled cheese (Tillamook, of course) with bacon and tomato. Or at least tried to, but the generous mayonnaise layer got in the way of my enjoyment. Warm mayo is scary like treading water in a murky sea and being brushed against by a plesiosaurus. Horrifying…and well, more common.

A group seated next to us asked for breakfast menus. D’oh. I don’t know why I just didn’t ask.

I had better luck a few days later in Springfield when I visited another Elmer’s and got the breakfast I had been dreaming of. There’s always an internal debate over sweet or savory at places like this. Eggs usually win but they do have a tempting Dutch baby pancake.

Elmer's omelet

This is Mr. Elmer’s omelet with swiss, tomatoes, mushrooms and honey ham. I’m not even sure that there is a Mr. Elmer but that’s ok. I was swayed by the hollandaise topping. Either go caloric or go home. I love that you get a biscuit instead of boring ol’ toast ,and best of all, a choice of three styles of hashbrowns: plain, with onions and peppers or interspersed with Tillamook cheddar cheese. Cheese for me.

Elmer’s * 1590 NW Burnside, Gresham, OR; 3350 Gateway, Springfield, OR (and various locations)

Taco Time

Taco time crisp bean burrito on tray

Did I love it? Yes, if only for nostalgia's sake.

It’s not as if we didn’t have Taco Bell in Gresham; I just never went. I always thought Taco Bell and Taco Time were on par with each other, not realizing the fast food joint with the green cactus sign was a rinky dink regional chain. It’s where we’d eat as kids and where we’d drive for lunch in high school.

Now, the appeal is obvious to me: fried food. They’ve diversified since the ‘80s but I’ll always associate this Eugene-originated restaurant with crisp bean burritos. A flour tortilla coated with a slurry of mashed pinto beans, wrapped into a tight cylinder and fried crisp more like a giant flauta than a burrito. Plain and simple.

The only side was Mexi-Fries, deep-fried tater tots coated with maybe a little cumin and chile powder. The thing about their frying that I remember is that it was intense, not just crisping but oil-heating until a shell formed on the tots and especially at the ends of the burrito, a treat akin to burnt ends in bbq parlance.

I had to pull over to grab a crisp bean burrito for old time’s sake when I saw a Taco Time on the side of the road in Sandy en route to Mount Hood. The beans were a little al dente, there’s nothing complex about the wrap and the salsa was kind of a mushy but that’s how it’s supposed to be.

Taco time crisp bean burrito

I was snapped out of my reverie when I overheard a rugged elderly gent going table to table, “Who has the car with Texas plates?” Uh, I did, and being given a rental car with out-of-state plates was a source of embarrassment all week. I was half-scared he wanted to pick a fight with the Lone Star residents in his mountain town (it might’ve been worse if he knew we were New Yorkers). But no, in my excitement to get a burrito I had left the car’s lights on. Two rarities in my life: crisp bean burritos and driving.

Taco Time * 17475 Beers Ave., Sandy, OR

Move Over, Explorers Club


If you thought you were pretty adventurous eating dried grasshoppers in Guatemala, sago worms in Philippines or deep-fried butter in the US, you would be wrong. According to the latest Brand Bites survey conducted by TNS Landis, “A Taste for Adventure,” drinking pure juice without sugar is pretty wild.

In fact, Naked Juice is considered the second most adventurous brand after Chipotle, and both won more than 50% of the votes. Don’t worry, we’re not all so impressed by Niman Ranch pork and natural ingredients in our burritos; El Monterey, T.G.I. Friday’s and Jose Ole frozen Mexican snacks and entrees all made the top ten.

The bottom of the barrel brands are suitably unadventurous, however: Wonder Bread, Ensure, Egg-Beaters, store brand applesauce. Poor Famous Amos got his cookies lumped in with this motley crew, too. I guess Mrs. Fields didn’t even rank.