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M. Wells

Between servers ignoring tables speaking English (i.e. us), snickering about my cleavage—and the bizarre last straw—finding a screw in one of our dishes, my experience with foodie-approved Au Pied de Cochon was unappetizing to say the least. I would never return unless I felt like being hazed like an outcast in a high school cafeteria.

So, when I heard about Au Pied de Cochon by way of Long Island City, my first thought was "These fuckers?" Ok, ok, M. Wells turned out to be the project of just one chef from the Montreal restaurant and his wife. Innocent until proven guilty.

M wells coffee

And the gussied-up diner ended up being completely charming despite my aversion to brunch, or more accurately brunchers. I think one of its saving graces is the isolated location, despite being right across from midtown with a 7 stop feet from the front door. There was a small crowd when we arrived around 1pm, and we probably could’ve gotten a table within ten minutes but opted for two empty stools at the end of the counter.

M wells doughnut

I didn't even mind the languid pacing—I had my coffee (Oslo, not Stumptown) and wasn't in any hurry. However, the dense, cakey doughnut brought over to buffer the lag between ordering and receiving our food was appreciated. 

M wells escargot & bone marrow

I'll order anything involving bone marrow and was curious what how escargots bone marrow with shallots and red wine puree might be presented (I'm not one of those customers who asks questions). Tight quarters with nearly everything on display, we happened to be sitting across from a prep cook so I could see this dish being composed. A bone halved lengthwise gets dotted with pink and gray blobs, then heaped with breadcrumbs and parsley, ready for the broiler. Crispy and unctuous, this preparation felt like a tiny luxury rather than the purist, fatty style more typically served.

M wells pickled tongue

The pickled pork tongue was a last minute extra, and I'm glad I squeezed it in. The tongue was tender, almost pot roast shreddable, and wonderful with the flaky housemade (the worst word but accurate) soda crackers and sharp mustard. None of it was much to look at on the plate, but this is exactly the kind of spartan snack I'd love to come home to after work.

M wells egg sausage sandwich

I did not partake in the already renowned breakfast sandwich on a housemade (there it is again) English muffin. I'm just not crazy about breakfast sausage; I think it's the sage. Then again, my sense of taste and smell could be off because I kept getting a very mild whiff of durian throughout the meal, and it turned out it was coming from this handheld meal. Weird. James declared the sandwich better than what he churns out on his completely unnecessary all-in-one mcmuffin making gadget. A win for M. Wells.

M. Wells * 21-17 49th Ave., Long Island City, NY

Strawberries Are For Patriots

Patriotic-Strawberries In shocking news, the USA Rice Federation has found that 83% moms—the world’s most important demographic—serve rice as a side dish.

Perhaps, the other 17% are scared of carbs? Those are probably the whole grain-obsessed moms responsible for the 651 new whole grain products that have been launched to date in 2010, according to Mintel.

Meanwhile, Technomic finds that 52% of Americans want healthier food at convenience stores. You know that's bullshit because Fruit2day (a very reputable research firm) says that close to half of us let fruit rot in the fridge. I know I do because I generally hate it. Mangos, I don't detest, yet I still have a probably rancid one lazing around in the crisper drawer for the past two weeks.

Also, our favorite fruit is the strawberry because "Americans see themselves as having sweet, caring personalities like a strawberry." If you say so.

Image from Foodwhirl.

In-N-Out Burger

Maybe I’m influenced a bit by the mythical stature of In-N-Out, compounded by inaccessibility. And those hyphens? Chick-fil-A's sandwiches, too, loom large in things between bread lore. Clearly, the omission of full words creates devotion.


I can be easily influenced, but I still wouldn't describe an In-N-Out burger as "about as moist as an emery board and half as thick." Certainly, the meat matters but a Double-Double is about the overall harmony. No mainstream fast food burgers compare (even though James' coworker he'd dragged on the BART from Berkeley to Fisherman's Wharf to indoctrinate him complained, "Burger King is better."). Besides, I'm going to focus on the fries, which everyone says are crappy despite being handmade.

It could've been the Friday night clientele, mostly made up of teenagers (while revved up and tomcatting around, the kids didn't have that potential sociopath aura like their Brooklyn counterparts—must be the calming effect of the suburbs) but the fries took me back to "Grotto fries," a treat that was served at the diner across from my high school, officially named the Hi Fi Grotto, that was the domain of outdoor smokers safely away from school property. Grotto fries were crinkle cut and probably frozen, but the secret sauce made them awesome.

Animal-style fries are like Grotto fries times ten. Of course, there's the secret sauce/spread/Thousand Island dressing for creaminess and tang—there's definitely pickle relish in the condiment, fried onions for sweetness and the crowning glory, a gooey blanket of semi-melted American cheese. Not cheese sauce, which would be logical, but a pliable slice of salty goodness like when a nacho made with shredded cheese starts to cool and you can pick off solid blobs. This is how junk food was meant to be.


Did I mention that I'd been throwing up all afternoon on the plane? (I'm convinced it wasn't motion sickness but a guava pastry from the Juan Valdez café in Newark) This is how powerful animal-style fries are. I couldn't finish my burger (I saved it for breakfast) but there was no way I was going to let a little nausea stand in the way of this fried potato pileup.

In-N-Out Burger * 1417 Fitzgerald Dr., Pinole, CA

Fette Sau

I’m not one to say to no to free drinks, but my office’s quarterly Thursday afternoon happy hour in the conference room with Bud Lite, jug wine, mozzarella sticks and pigs in a blanket were no match for James’ annual company Fun Day.

What this means is that they get the day off and can propose just about any fun group activity with a $100 per employee stipend. Last year, he participated in a Le Bernadin lunch. Friday, it was beer gardens of Brooklyn. By the time I got off work, a majority of the group had headed home, leaving me a pint at Radegast, a few bites of venison sausage and $160 to spare.

Fette sau bbq

On to Fette Sau (not technically a beer garden, no) where James, one remaining coworker, myself, and a dismissed former employee happy to splurge on the company’s dime, ordered a pound each of pork belly, pulled pork and beef brisket, a sampling of bourbon and rye, followed by a gallon of Six Point Righteous Rye in an enormous glass jub. Oh, yes, and baked beans…with burnt ends. Meat upon meat.

I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never been to Fette Sau; it’s the crowd avoider in me. We snuck in just under the wire, but being in for the long haul (I really didn’t think we were eating and drinking that slowly) ended up sharing a picnic table with a series of four other groups. Tables are definitely the premium I was afraid they were.

Now I know what all the fuss is about; the meat is ridiculously good and fatty in a pleasing way. The pulled pork shoulder was moist throughout, the sliced brisket was both tender and charred, and even cold (I guess we were eating slowly) the pork belly, which we saved for last due to awkward sharing, was ridiculous. I refrained from gnawing on the bone even though was I was getting egged on to do just that.

At $16 a pound for each meat, the pricing wasn’t outrageous and more economical than Hill Country. I already want to go back and create my own Fun Day.

Fette Sau * 354 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Chain Links: I Hope They Don’t Call Them Sammies in South America

Quiznos sammy Pizza Hut is the most trusted food service brand in India. [press release]

Quiznos has never done much for me, though I have bought a Sammie from the location across from my office twice in three-and-a-half years. No matter, they’re expanding to Chile, Ecuador and Argentina. They have to serve a choripán. [press release]

Is Smashburger a big deal? I don’t know. They’re creeping ever closer in New Jersey, and are soon to spread all over South Korea too. [QSR]

Napa Valley Sunday

The San Francisco trip was semi-impromptu so securing a French Laundry reservation just wasn’t going to happen. Besides, I’m not a “people who have BMWs or are looking at BMWs”.


After a few winery pit stops (photographic evidence) we did poke around Yountville and ate at Bouchon, instead. I didn’t feel inclined to blog my meal because I wrote about the Las Vegas location before, and I’ve been trying to wean myself from the practice. It’s like smoking; I technically quit in 2003 but you might see a cigarette in my hand a couple times a week.

Bouchon bakery macarons

However, I did photograph macarons from Bouchon Bakery. I could really take or leave the cupcake of the foodie world. It’s just a cookie, but I’m a sucker for rainbow hues.

Bouchon bakery blueberry macaron

And the blueberry wasn’t just pretty to look at—there’s no way the interior shade of azure is naturally derived—the texture and flavor was dazzling. Only a white cream layer is obvious at first glance, but there’s also a swipe of deep blue chunky jam in the center of the substantial macaron. The pistachio one was fine, but couldn’t compare to the boldness of the blueberry.

I’ve never been to the Napa Valley, and wasn’t sure what to expect. Yountville, a mini neighborhood constructed around the presence of the French Laundry, was peculiar in its manufactured quality. I wouldn’t say Disneyfied, if only because I loathe that shorthand, but intentional despite its nothingness like an outlet mall planted off a highway exit, a far flung Ikea on a street called Ikea Lane. It felt about 12 blocks long, which is about right if you look at the patch on a map.

French laundry garden

The rebellious suburbanite in me wanted to wreak havoc on the pseudo tiny town. For one, I couldn’t figure out how French Laundry’s garden, directly across the street from the storied restaurant, could be open to the public without people snatching produce. What’s to keep someone from pocketing a souvenir Jerusalem artichoke? “That’s so Brooklyn” James chided, even though he had the same thought. Humans are not that good. If they’re stealing serving vessels from Alinea, plundering gardens is a step down.

French laundry greenhouse

Greenhouse tomatoes and herbs begging to be picked.

French laundry melon patch

Melons being my most loathed food, it took restraint to not bop one of these cantaloupes lazing under foliage on its webby noggin.

After a charcuterie plate, black cod and lobster with accoutrements that reminded me a lot of this tete de cochon from Eleven Madison Park, a cheese course including a Fleur du Maquis that tasted like pee-soaked hay (not saying that’s a bad thing) and a few glasses of un-California riesling—oh, and a sherry—we set out to explore Yountvile after dark.

Yountville library

I rest secure knowing that while it’s not something I’d do in NYC, I appreciate that public libraries exist everywhere. When I get older and move away to become more hermitty, I’ll always be able to find work traumatizing the community from behind a reference desk. I wonder what kind of patrons use the Yountville public library?

Yountville mobile home park If you cross back over the main entry road from highway 29, the neighborhood tapers off into trees and half-standing houses in mid-construction.  The bad part of town? That’s where you could sneak off and get high if you were a teen. I wanted to nose around the new development but a security guard was on patrol.

Rancho twosome

Instead, we trespassed into the over 55 community. As someone who’s trying to escape the stroller-and-toy hegemony that plagues the foyers of every shared building in Brooklyn, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only place I could live in orderly peace would be in a complex of empty nesters.

Inside rancho de napa

And apparently, Rancho de Napa is a “grape place to live.” What I love about the west coast is the normalcy of trailer parks. I’ve spent much time in mobile homes of various family members over the years. It’s not trashy, it’s thrifty. And this collection was comprised of more polite manufactured homes, many tricked out with multiple stories, showy panels of windows and manicured yards. It was dark, however, and I didn’t want to use a flash lest we get run out of town. On a Sunday around 8pm, the whole village was practically in bed anyway, BMW-less visitors heading back from whence they came.


Burritos get all the attention in San Francisco (and I did get one the size of tube sock filled with al pastor at El Farolito, which served as midnight snack and substantial breakfast) but Cal-Mex is hardly the only regional style available in the Mission. 


Yucatecan food was on my agenda, so I was thrilled to hear that my friend Todd had moved from Portland to an apartment around the corner from Poc-Chuc. Actually, he just said, “a Mayan restaurant,” but because I am obsessive I knew which one he meant even though I haven’t been to San Francisco since 1995. He was raving about a black turkey dish that sometimes had a mystery meatball floating in it. I loved the idea of random spongy meat showing up with your poultry.

With that said, we went to Haltun, another restaurant in the Mission, to see if they too plopped Mayan meatballs into the mix. Yes, they do. I must admit that my knowledge of this Caribbean-influenced style of cooking only comes from one meal at Coox Hanal in Mexico City, perhaps the equivalent of trying Southern food in NYC (which we seem to have an awful lot of lately), and from an episode of One Plate at Time. Clearly, I’m not an expert.

Haltun relleno negro

I do know that this dark, brothy dish gets its spooky color from charred chiles, often a mix of arbol and ancho. Charred is putting it mildly; the chiles are burnt and even the ash is incorporated into the mole paste. The meatloaf—it’s much more than a ball—is made from pork. Apparently, Poc Chuc’s version is less oily and more inky than sienna.

Haltun relleno blanco

Relleno blanco is the good twin, similar ingredients minus the darkness.

Haltun poc-chuc de puerco

Me, I just wanted a big plate of grilled pork, the so-called poc-chuc de puerco. This wouldn’t be out of place in many parts of Mexico; the Yucatecan touches were present in the pickled onions and potent salsa—habanero-usage is exclusive to this cuisine—served in a small glass dish with the circumference of thumb and first finger making the OK sign. 

Haltun chips & salsa

I’m pretty sure that’s crumbled cheese in the red salsa even though it looks a little like Thai roasted rice powder.

While it’s no LA or Chicago, I’ll always defend NYC’s Mexican cuisine (I’d say San Francisco fits somewhere in the middle). Still, we rarely get thick and pliable corn tortillas fresh of the comal like this. Handmade tortillas make all the difference, which reminds me that it’s very neglectful of me to have not visited Corona’s Tortillería Nixtamal yet.

Haltun pol-can

A banner affixed to the exterior wall described a happy hour and “Mayan tapas,” my favorite abused word. We were outside this time frame, but tapas meant appetizers so we tried a few at full price. Pol-can was a lima bean and pumpkin seed fritter made out of corn-based dough. Very new world.

Haltun salbut'

Salbutes, or salbut’ as spelled at Haltun, are like tostadas. These fried tortillas were topped with chicken. I haven’t seen these in NYC, but panuchos, a close kin, are served at La Superior in Williamsburg.

Haltun * 2948 21st St., San Francisco, CA

Vientian Café

My final vacation meal was small and slapdash, a zero hour take out excursion I barely managed to squeeze in before Vientian Café closed at an early 9pm. Burmese (which I never got to), Mayan and Laotian are three cuisines lacking in NYC that the Bay Area has aplenty. (Only the latter made the recent Village Voice “Nine Cuisines Missing From NYC” list. Burmese is iffy here–I’m not even sure which restaurants if any are in business anymore. La Superior does serve panuchos, pavo escabeche and cochinita pibil, but it’s not strictly a Yucatecan restaurant. Laotian is completely absent.) I wanted to try them all.

Oakland, only a short car ride from our hotel in Berkeley, seemed to be the epicenter of Lao cooking. After a late lunch/early dinner at Tadich Grill and a nap induced by a few too many afternoon glasses of wine, it was already 8:30pm, too late for Green Papaya Deli, my first choice, but potentially ok for Vientian Café.

My only concern were the Yelp reviews, which I never take seriously for food quality but find useful for service quirks or issues not related to eating. Everyone mentioned how unsafe it was to park near the restaurant and how sketchy the neighborhood was. I don’t tend to take these cautions seriously; I read similar nonsense about places in Puerto Rico that were perfectly fine. Then again, I always think back to Vancouver, B.C. and getting everything stolen from our rental car because I didn’t take bad vibes seriously.

The door was locked when I ran up hoping for takeout. I was let in and the door was re-locked. I’m not sure if this was because it was the end of the night or if they always keep the door locked. The only other time I’ve seen this practice was at La Peniche in New Orleans where they also kept a machete near the door—if I’m correct, because there had a been a rash of robberies not because the Marigny is a particularly dangerous area. James insisted he heard gun shots while waiting in the car. Who knows? Maybe we’d just been in Berkeley too long and had gotten all soft and jumpy.

Vientian cafe beef larb

Knowing we were flying out in less than 12 hours, I only ordered two things from the menu, which was overwhelmingly Thai. The only thing I knew I had to try was the beef larb. Very different from the Thai style, the meat is raw, tripe is mixed in and there is nearly an equal amount of whole mint leaves and fat rings of green onions to irregularly chopped beef bits. Spicy for sure, herbal, and also bitter, much more so than the Thai style I’m accustomed to. I don’t know what that’s coming from, if it’s an unidentified herb or a side effect of the fermented fish sauce.

I almost never lame out on food, but after days of popping Pepto-Bismol tablets to keep the inexplicable nausea that started on the flight to San Francisco and lasted the entire trip under control I went with the counter woman’s suggestion of rare beef instead of raw. After reading up a bit, I don’t think cooked meat was the abomination I originally thought it was. Here’s a fancy version of the larb from a great blog I’d nearly forgotten about, written by a Laotian chef in Spain.

Vientian cafe lao papaya salad

There is no doubt where the papaya salad gets its predominant funk from, and that’s the above mentioned padaek. Thankfully, we were checking out the next morning. I can’t imagine our hotel’s housekeeper being pleased with the foul, dirty smelling Styrofoam container left in the garbage (wrapped in plastic). As is often the case, the taste is much milder than the smell, more of a robust saltiness you associate with the sea. “Five or six chiles?” the counterwoman asked. “How you would eat it,” was my response hoping she wasn’t a baby palate. The heat was sharp and forceful, but nothing that a blob of sticky rice couldn’t temper. The most unusual part of the Lao style salad was that it came with a separately bagged up pile of fresh rice noodles, which provided the same softening effect as the sticky rice. I liked the contrast between crunch and chew.

I only regret not being able to order more things like the duck salad and Lao sausages…and having to toss out the unfinished remains of this meal. I just couldn’t justify packing such messy food in our suitcases even though we did do just that with Sichuan leftovers from our last lunch in Hong Kong.

Vientian Café * 3801 Allendale Ave., Oakland, CA

Humphry Slocombe & Assorted Beverages

1/2 Two things I like about vacations are drinking in the middle of the day and eating lots of sweets. My dull workaday life is sugar-free, and cocktails are relegated to the weekends. I satisfied both loves my first day in San Francisco, a Saturday when good foodies are supposed to be at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, when instead, I met up with an old Portland friend who now lives in the Mission.

Humphry slocombe secret breakfast

He was already acquainted with popular ice creamery, Bi-Rite, so we chose to immerse ourselves in weirder flavors at Humphry Slocombe. We all were swayed by Secret Breakfast, a wink-wink blend of cornflakes and Jim Beam. Second scoops included Peanut Butter Curry for me, which tasted as advertised and had the bluntness of turmeric-heavy curry powder; Olive Oil for Todd, which he said was orangey, not olivey; and a mistaken Salt and Pepper for James (he’d ask for Cayenne Cantaloupe and I screwed up the order because my brain couldn’t retain three combos of two).

The unexpected thing was that the flavors weren’t wildly distinct. I don’t think I would’ve guessed either of the two ingredients in the Secret Breakfast, which was more creamy and vanilla-ish. The cracked pepper definitely stood out because I thought it was my bowl and not the curry flavor I’d been expecting. However, I didn’t taste any salt and would’ve liked the contrast. I don’t think we converted Todd from Bi Rite, but I’d give Humphry another chance if I lived nearby. Plus, the prosciutto flavor is back on the menu today.

Humphry slocombe exterior

Odd for someone who eats ice cream like never, I also had a scoop of nectarine at brand new Mission Hill Creamery in Santa Cruz, a company started by my boyfriend’s sister’s husband’s childhood friend. Apparently, he is of the same purist, seasonal school as Bi Rite and learned from the same master somewhere in the Northeast. I thought it was interesting that he claimed that Humphry Slocombe quirks wouldn’t fly in Santa Cruz. I was just reading about a place in Maine, which strikes me as a more conservative locale, doing flavors like Thai Chile and Chocolate Wasabi, so you never know. I did not take any photos because I tend to reserve food paparazzi behavior for company who is used to it.

Dirty thieves snack

I wasn’t sure if Dirty Thieves, around the corner from Humphry Slocombe, was a true dive or a facsimile, but the booths were ripped up enough and while PBR tallboys and a shot of whiskey are hip in their own way, it’s not like housemade horehound bitters and lavender-infused Plymouth Gin. In fact, my long list of to-try mixology dens (Albemic, Bar Agricole, Comstock Saloon, Smuggler’s Cove, Hogs & Rocks, Beretta, among others) completely got top shelved once I set foot in San Francisco.

Li po

Instead, we mingled with tourists swaying to Ray Charles covers banged out on the corner piano at Gold Dust Lounge, and nursed a few beers at Li Po on a Labor Day night in Chinatown so silent we tried not to disrupt the homeless man sleeping in the doorway next to where we parked. He continued his buzzsaw snoring, perhaps the only thing keeping Lo Pan, who we kept imagining would float by in the dark, at bay.

Eddie rickenbacker's bar

I also couldn’t pass up Eddie Rickenbacker’s, a prototypical fern bar of the let’s put crap and Tiffany lamps all over the place school of décor that only now Applebee’s and Ruby Tuesdays are trying to move away from. We really wanted to see Mr. Higgins, the obese, three-legged Katrina rescued cat who lives in the bar, but he’d died three weeks prior to the date we arrived to say hi. I drank a shot of Maker’s Mark in his honor, though he was probably more of a Harvey Wallbanger feline.

Dirty Thieves continued the refreshing San Francisco tradition of warm service, irony-rich PBR or not, an antidote to the dourness I’ve just come to expect as normal in Brooklyn. In fact, our bartender was so friendly he practically apologized for not offering us free peanut butter and banana sandwiches that he’d been grilling out back. Full of Mayan food (another post) and ice cream, we still couldn’t turn down such kindness—and enthusiasm—it was as if he’d invented the combination himself.

Humphry Slocombe * 2790 Harrison St., San Francisco, CA

Dirty Thieves * 3050 24th St., San Francisco, CA

Li Po * 916 Grant Ave., San Francisco, CA

Eddie Rickenbacker’s * 133 2nd St., San Francisco, CA

Why does no one in the Bay Area have webpages? 

The Most Important Meal of the Day

Secret I only ignore my RSS feeds for six days and three breakfast-related surveys appear out of nowhere?

Breakfast is kind of a non-entity to me. Weekdays, I’ll bring fruit or a granola bar or sometimes a hard-boiled egg and eat at my desk around 11am. Boring. Weekends, I rarely get up early enough to indulge. It’s always the sore spot on vacations. I can never cram in three meals a day (and rarely get out of the hotel before 11am) so breakfast is usually scrapped for early lunch, dinner and a snack. While in the Bay Area this past weekend, I did manage to squeeze in hangtown hash, a take on the regional hangtown fry, at Sea Salt in Berkeley, and tocilog at Tselogs, a Filipino café in Daly City. Oh, I also had a scoop of Secret Breakfast ice cream, a.k.a. Jim Beam and cornflakes, at Humphry Slocombe.

According to Quaker Oats, nearly half of Americans pass on breakfast. They don’t provide much further insight, but suggesting that you turn off your mobile phone or hide it in other room while you get ready as a way to “make over your own morning routine and enjoy a healthier life” tells me that skipping breakfast is the least of this country’s problems.

Kix and SUPERVALU provide some contradictory data. The cereal brand claims that 79% of parents eat breakfast with their kids (liars) while the supermarket chain finds that 54% of children "fend for themselves in the kitchen for breakfast." Regionally, Chicago had the highest percentage of kids making their own breakfast (69%); San Diego had the fewest number of parents who serve their children breakfast before school (43%).

Photo from Panda Sashimi.