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Kindred Spirits


Oh dear…I’ve lived this scenario, but it was Olive Garden and Belle and Sebastian.

Green Is Good


Baking hasn’t really been my thing for years (I’m not sure if I’ve lost interest or if my kitchens have shrunk impractically) but I couldn’t really say no to the Serious Eats Cookie Swap.

All I knew is that I wanted something unnaturally green. And pandan paste to the rescue. I imagined that these semi-invented cookies that I dubbed Spicy Pandan Cashew White Chocolate would be spicy and limey from the Trader Joe’s flavored cashews and feared they’d be cloyingly pandan’d from the artificial paste, but all of these seasonings somehow disappeared during the baking process.

I tried combatting this by sprinkling after the fact with a sugar-cayenne blend and putting defrosted pandan leaves in the bag I transported the cookies in to perfume them. They weren’t perfect, but they grew on me. Most importantly, they were very green.

Arepas Are Not Tortillas

Arepera Socialista
Photo from Venezolana de Television

Like Angry Birds and Glee, Wikileaks is one of those unavoidable topics that I try to know as little about as possible—until now. Because, arepas?

We have the popular Caracas Arepa Bar mini-chain, but apparently in Caracas, Hugo Chavez opened a chain, Arepera Socialista, last year. A perfect target for an American diplomat to monitor.

“On a January 8 visit, EmbOffs witnessed a long line of people waiting to get into the restaurant but surprisingly rapid service. Inside, one wall was dominated by a quote in large red lettering from Simon Bolivar: ‘The best system of government is that which produces the greatest happiness.’”

And lest you think Venezuela lack food bloggers (doesn’t it feel like the US and Asia kind of dominate the genre? Or maybe that’s my own bias.) El Gourmet Urbano was on the beat soon after the cafe opened. Other than the trash bags hanging off the sides of the cans rather than being inside, the verdict was positive.

I went looking for more socialist restaurants, but communism seems to be more popular.

Instead, you can look at more food blogs from Venezuela:
Diario de una comensal caraqueña que se aburría
Fogones de Venezeula
El Fogon Creativo


Joe Beef

Attempts at artisanalizing the McRib wind me up a little. Yet, when it comes to cross-cultural fast food interpretations using foie gras, I’m completely open. There was no way I wasn’t ordering the Foie Gras Double Down, four very important words scrawled in chalk at the bottom of the appetizer list on Joe Beef’s wall-sized blackboard menu. Our server started explaining what a Double Down was (KFC had recently stopped selling the controversial sandwich in Canada) and I appreciated her assumption that I wouldn’t be familiar with the monstrous creation.

Joe beef foie gras double down

Two slices of foie gras are breaded in a light flaky crust, deep-fried, of course, and surround meaty slabs of bacon candied in maple syrup. I did not detect any cheese, though I’m fairly certain that was mentioned in the description. As if you would need an additional layer—this is the kind of dish the food police should fret over, not the chaste 540-calorie fried chicken as buns served at KFC, and exemplifies the Joe Beef approach to food in a tidy foil-wrapped bundle. Shared, the fork-and-knife snack is still a hefty dose of creamy fat and salty-sweet chew. Maybe that pork belly McRib isn’t so bad after all.

Joe beef venison

My venison and spaetzle was no less hearty, but a touch more traditional. Seeing my first snowfall of the season and excited by finally being able to crack out my parka, I was going wintery and filling all the way.

Joe beef venison carpaccio

We first experienced venison as an amuse. Not the first meat I would think of to carpaccio, but the pink flesh was very tender and contrasted well with the sharper raw shallots and dollop of mustardy mascarpone—oh, and shaved truffles.

Not pictured is the rack of pork ribs. Full of game meat, I didn’t sample them, but James had to because he’s been dabbling with a baby-sized Bradley (a Canadian brand, of course) smoker. We were shown the built-from-scratch smoker in the back yard by co-chef/owner David McMillan. Impressive for sure, as was the bowl of vanilla soft serve topped with a burgundy wine reduction and shaved black truffles. Decadent, and once again merging disparate styles.

From start-to-finish, we got the full Montreal welcome. It was more than enough to drop my old Au Pied de Cochon grudge because I’m mature that way now.

Joe Beef * 2491 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest, Montreal, Canada

Chains Never Sleep

I spend the day, you know, actually working–and so much happens! The internet is a machine that never stops. Last night I found out that Eatocracy had reported on Tony Luke’s bringing cheesesteaks to Bahrain (I’m not embarrassed to admit that I ate two Pat’s cheesesteaks last weekend), Eater had mentioned that 24 IHOPs are coming to NYC and Grub Street had tracked down Nate Appleman making burritos at a Chelsea Chipotle.

This morning I awoke to see Slate’s article about the opening of Hooters in Japan and just felt empty and distraught and wanting to partake in my office’s bagel Friday, which I normally avoid because I try not to eat bread for breakfast. I will never let my RSS feeds get the better of me again.

Chain Links: Seaweed Soft Pretzels

Pringles-Seaweed I’ve seen Auntie Anne’s—serving seaweed pretzels, no less—in Malaysia, so it doesn’t seem so strange that they’d also expand to Japan. “…much of the Japanese population had never experienced a soft pretzel” yet that did not stop curiosity-seekers from lining up around the block–and filming it. [press release]

Golden Chick, which I keep reading as Golden Child, is a Dallas-based chain that has nothing to do with Eddie Murphy and a lot to do with chicken tenders–they practically claims to have invented them. They will be bringing breaded strips of poultry to China and nine other Asian countries next year. Also, there is a chain of Irish pubs in Texas?  [QSR]

California Pizza Kitchen will also be opening its first mainland China location. Shanghai is the lucky recipient. [NRN]

Subway is getting out of control in Saudi Arabia. Oddly, the last Subway I patronized (in Paramus) was filled with Middle Eastern families so maybe there is a UAE hoagie connection. [AME Info]

Frozen yogurt is so unappealing to me that I would prefer not even typing the two words. Apparently, there is a chain from Oklahoma creatively named FreshBerry. Venezuela and Portugal will be getting their no-sugar-added vanilla frozen yogurt in Q1 2011. [QSR]

Tossed, which isn’t that prevalent in the US, will be heading to Vancouver, B.C. [Fast Casual]

Pizza Hut Saratoga Springs

A $20 Pizza Hut gift card has been stashed in the armrest of James’ car for probably the past two years. Just in case, you know? Really, it’s only a gift in the way that buying things for yourself while Christmas shopping can be considered gifts.

Unlike the cards for Olive Garden and Cheesecake Factory, also languishing in their cache between the front seats, I’ve hoped that James would forget that he bought it. Pizza Hut, like Sizzler, feels second-tier, someplace old and tired that I’ve known my whole life. Not necessarily the source of good nostalgia.

Yet during a rain storm, hungry yet hours earlier than normal dinner time you might see Pizza Hut advertised on a sign on I-87 while approaching Saratoga Springs from Montreal. This is no occasion for glitzy trappings or voluminous menus. And maybe it’s a sit-down? Standalone Pizza Huts are a rare breed, at least around NYC. We struck-out with the first location we found on the GPS. It was just a strip mall takeout version like the one I worked at in the summer of 1990. But the counter woman was nicer than I was during my stint and directed us to a full-service one just a block-and-a-half down the street. Why Saratoga Springs is so saturated with Pizza Huts is another issue.

Pizza hut interior

The faded, family-friendly style that I’d been thinking of as dreary turned out to be charming in its refusal to modernize like an uppity Red Lobster. This photo could’ve been taken decades ago: '70s suburban church italics, '80s checkerboard tiles, three-bean salad. The menu wasn’t laminated and photo-driven, but simply a Xeroxed piece of paper listing the basics. There is a small salad bar and pizzas you can order half-and-half—or Hawaiian with no shame.

Pizza hut pizza.CR2

I picked hand-tossed crust because I couldn’t handle the breadiness of pan, and not thin crust because I remember hating having to make it since it was the only style you had to roll through a machine out on demand. This is childhood pizza, sweetish sauce encased in mozzarella, completely inoffensive. The pepperoni had the perfect singed ends and pools of oil. The odd thing, and I hope it’s not a case of my palate maturing, was how bland the ham and pineapple was. Maybe it was always this way.

Pizza hut salad

The most shocking part of the experience was that after paying, we still had 88 cents left on the gift card. I practically spent as much on a lobster roll and naturally sweetened blueberry soda for lunch last week. No wonder Pizza Hut is such a family favorite (with the exception of the tottering elderly couple drinking white wine and Molson in the primo corner booth, the diners were all parents and children). You might not be treated to a bubbly coal oven pie adorned with mozzarella di bufala, and who would expect to for $11.99?

Pizza Hut * 22 Congress St., Saratoga Springs, NY

What You’ll Be Eating in 2011

McCormick-Spices It’s easy to make fun of corporate food pronouncements and trends. 64% of Americans eat a gingerbread man’s head first, fried vegetables and hummus will be hot for 2011, local everything and ethnic-inspired breakfasts…or will it be food trucks and celebrity farmers?

But I have to admit that McCormick’s annual Flavor Forecast always manages to come up with unusual combinations and suggested recipes far more sophisticated than I would expect from the popular spice brand. (Frankly, I’m a La Flor girl because they’re local, always the cheapest and use glass bottles, but they only appear to have two recipes on their entire site: sweet and spicy cilantro chicken/pollo agridulce con cilantro and pork chops in wine sauc, missing the very important E.)

Caramelized honey and adzuki beans? Green peppercorn and goat’s milk? Perhaps I have been reading too much Taste of Home, sheltered in my New York-centric bubble. I thought Americans didn’t cook anymore. Now I’m faced with McCormick recipes for
Salmon and Scallop Ceviche with Herbes de Provence Popcorn and
Peri-Peri Fennel Bloody Mary with Vodka-Infused Tomatoes? I had no idea.

Le Footlong

$5 metric foot long

The $5 Footlong has become synonymous with Subway in the US despite that dreary, minor-key jingle. But the sandwich chain has a presence in 92 countries, most using the metric system and not using dollars.

In Quebec, they just size the sub literally, calling it 12 pouces (inches). They also make a catchier song—you won’t be able to watch this video without getting “douze pouces” stuck in your craw.

Canadian sidewalk chicken bone

The one universal truth I discovered in Canada was sidewalk chicken bones. I used to think that carelessly discarded poultry parts were a Brooklyn scourge, but I’ve since wised up.