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Spring Break

CROQUETA So, I’m off to the land of Michelin stars and pintxos, the now-clichéd foodie honeymoon destination of San Sebastián. (I am still bummed that the Chowhound post about the destination involving a marriage proposal did not incorporate food. Couldn’t you imagine a croqueta encasing a diamond ring?) Luckily, I don’t consider myself a foodie and I’m not married or about-to-be. All should be well.

As usual when I’m out of town I won’t be blogging, but I’ll probably be Twittering (tweeting sounds even lamer) just not while on-the-go. Smartphones and travel haven’t been a successful combination for me.

I couldn’t get my phone to work in Oaxaca even though half the cooking class were using Blackberries and when I was stupid enough to pack my also non-working phone—the banh mi version I’m still mourning the loss of—in my suitcase while in S.E. Asia, it was stolen somewhere between Bangkok and Penang. Plus, I’m just way too cheap to pay for international data charges, despite the potential usefulness of digital handheld maps. How do others deal with phones when out of the country?

But more importantly, if anyone out there has been to Bilbao or San Sebastián—what did you eat?

Croqueta picture from La Más Bella

Chain Links: I Say Rice and Beans, You Say Basmati and Dahl

Peruvian chefs are in demand in South America and many of the hot ticket restaurants in Quito have one. Partners in Ecuador’s branch of Astrid y Gastón, celebrity chef Gastón Acurio’s upscale chain, also own the local T.G.I. Friday’s and Pizza Hut franchises. I wonder how our soon-to-open La Mar will fare.

I don’t imagine there will be Peruvian chefs at the new Carl’s Jr. opening in Panama City, the country’s first branch.

American franchises haven’t done so well down under. Ben & Jerry’s hopes to change that.

As the American chain barrage continues in India, adaptations are being made. Pollo Tropical’s rice and beans may morph into basmati and dahl, flatbreads will find a place at Wing Stop, Wendy’s will lose the beef—and that’s just the beginning.

German fast food chain, Wienerwald will be opening in Romania. Chicken appears to be their specialty.

Put An Egg On It

Schnitzel haus leberkase

Much like the now famous “Put a bird on it” Portlandiaism, for some time barnyardy chefs have been fond of putting fried eggs on just about everything. I am not opposed to this flourish in all its permutations.

And for no reason whatsoever, while entertaining Portlanders over the past eight days I consumed an unusual amount of eggs—from devilled eggs at Dinosaur BBQ where we were accidentally brought two servings to the monte cristo at Savoia, which was really an Italian eggs benedict.

Of course contemporary chefs don’t own eggs as garnish. At Bay Ridge’s Schnitzel Haus where entrees easily contain a full pound of meat, they serve a classic leberkäse, a veal and pork bologna loaf that is grilled and topped with fried eggs and surrounded by mashed potatoes and sauerkraut. With freshly cooked eggs, I made two breakfast servings this morning and there is still enough loaf remaining for multiple meals. Happy Easter, if I can stomach it.

Caputo's egg bread

After two visits to Little Italy’s Ferrara, I suggested my mom visit a non-touristy Italian bakery frequented by locals. Caputo’s brusque, “Who’s next? I said who’s next?!” chaos on their “busiest day of the year” according to one brassy counter woman, certainly provided that bit of Brooklyn charm lacking on Grand Street. No time for questions or leisurely skimming the glass case, my mom chose four of the sweet rolls baked around a hard boiled egg and topped with rainbow sprinkles.

I know I never encountered Italian Easter bread in Portland. And maybe it was new for the security at JFK, as well. Apparently, the holiday goods prompted a step-aside bag search when the visitors were heading back to the west coast. The damage on this particular roll was done by me, ripping apart wildly before photographing.




In the late ‘90s I had a fantasy of writing a photo-driven book about candy bars, obscure and beloved, maybe with behind the scenes factory shots. It would be called Wunderbar and it would be awesome. At least it was in my mind, but publishing was a mystery to me (it still is, frankly). I didn’t even know where to begin. Obviously, crowd-sourcing and provide-me-with-content tumblrs were an unheard of concept at the time. Even Food Network’s Unwrapped hadn’t yet aired.

My go-nowhere concept faded from memory until 2004 when Steve Almond’s Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America, a kind of memoir, kind of a love letter to the little guys, came out. Ah, so this is how it’s done. Or rather, one way to do it. The same year Nigel Slater’s Toast, a memoir with candy-centric leanings, was also published.

I read Candyfreak at the time (it just now occurred to me to read Toast—I’ll put a library hold on it shortly) but as with many things in life, half-a-decade later and I’d completely forgotten how it was written or any details beyond the overall topic. I’ve been giving another once over as a refresher.

All was good until I reached page 135. In describing the Goo Goo Cluster factory thusly, “Joanne led me through the warehouse, gingerly stepping over palettes on the ground.” I had two gut reactions. It was exciting to see my bugaboo word in this context because it’s the one usage you never see mangled because it’s rarely used at all. But I’m fairly certain he meant pallets not palettes.

I tried to put the homophonal transgression out of my mind and focus on the story, but on the very next page I was sucker punched again!

The same was true of ABC Fruit Chomps. They tasted funny. But they tasted funny because my palette has come to define Starbursts as the standard of normalcy when it comes to fruit chews.

Once you spy a palate abomination, there’s no way of unseeing it or forgetting it. Two in two pages? And then in the next-to-last chapter, the crime occurred again, as if to make sure I was really paying attention until the very end. Oh, I was.

The American palette is accustomed, by this time, to chocolate and peanut butter. We think nothing of the combination, in part because both substances melt at the same temperature.

No! This was particularly painful because the candy being discussed, Abba-Zabba, is easily one of my favorite candy bars (why did I never see the green apple limited edition!?). I remained defeated for the final 18 pages.

The only salvation was seeing that quaint last-decade oddity, an appendix of websites with unwieldy URLs like and, attempting to capture the ephemeral in print.

Food Blogs…Blah, Blah

Bloggers Yes, I already posted about the ELLE food blogger article when it came out in print. No, I’m not trying to milk my fleeting minutes of fame (well, a bit maybe) but now that they’ve put it online I feel like it is my duty to link to the new format.

The Cheesiest

Trader vic's crab rangoon

It’s rare that I use the Goodie Obsession tag anymore. I guess I don’t gush over particular foodstuffs like I used to. Even so, crab rangoon, a.k.a. cream cheese wontons, play a prominent role in my favorite junk foods repetoire. In fact, I ate two-thirds of a box of frozen, bakeable cream cheese wontons from Aldi (NYC’s only location is now in Rego Park, you know) for dinner last week.

So, I was very excited to see the snack featured as part of Serious Eats’ “Tiki Week.” I’ve totally made them with fake crab, myself. No need for the real stuff unless you are able to procure a can of Phillip’s lump meat from Costco and think your friends deserve it.

Also today I learned about a Latino take on the cream cheese wonton served a Patacón Pisao, a Venezuelan shop in Elmhurst. The tequeño is essentially fried, dough-wrapped cream cheese and is practically as inventive as using fried plantains in lieu of bread as they do in their namesake patacón.

Photo from Chicago’s Trader Vic’s, New Year’s Eve 2010.

Brooklyn Star

No amount of salad, yogurt, fruit and dinners ripped from the pages of Cooking Light—my dull weekday diet—can make up for an excess of pork fat, batter and beer. Weekends are a problem for me. But what’s the point of going to southern-by-way-of Williamsburg Brooklyn Star if you’re living a life of grilled chicken breasts and steamed broccoli?

Brooklyn star rillettes

Unusually, the long wait on a Saturday night didn’t sour my mood. The luck of two seats instantly opening at the crowded bar and a gratis Sazerac granted by the kindly bartender (whose accent leaned more Scottish than Southern) just shy of the one-hour-mark raised my spirits. We had duck rillettes to occupy us, too. Served in a jar, as country-fied cuisine in urban settings often is, the rich confit was cut by the tartness of pickled green beans and was just as good on a biscuit as a baguette. The thing about terrines, pates and the like is that there’s never enough bread and you feel silly eating charcuterie by the spoonful.

Brooklyn star pigs tails
The fried pigs tails were more bony than anything, but if they’re on a menu you’re going to order them, right? The darker nuggets on the periphery of the bowl are jalapeño hush puppies.

  Brooklyn star marrow

I appreciate the starch variety. Hush puppies, biscuits and here, Texas toast as the bready delivery mechanism for roasted bone marrow. The parsley salad you may have seen before in this context; the red onion jam, maybe not.
Brooklyn star steak

I did not sample the country fried steak with a creamy white gravy, but it looked substantial.

Brooklyn star brussels sprouts
Yes, one vegetable (there are a few on offer) fried, of course, and tossed with ham, apples and chow chow. The unexpected combination paired with brussels sprouts was the most Momofuku-ish dish I encountered.

I’ve never been into chili or chips, but I do love tripe so I’d deal with the Fritos accompaniment and likely-to-be hearty preparation to see what the tripe chili is all about. Something for next time.

Brooklyn Star * 593 Lorimer St., Brooklyn, NY


The Latest In American-Chinese Relations

Panda-Express In what some might call a ballsy move, Panda Restaurant Group’s Chairman Andrew Cherng may soon bring the food court staple to China. I’ve been wracking my brain for a US equivalent, but am coming up short. MOS Burger is the closest I can come up with, though they closed their only US location in barely American Hawaii back in 2005.

Maybe crazy is more apt than ballsy. Andew Cherng also thinks you can eat caring and that it’s more important than food.

An American reporter for The New Yorker hitches a ride on a cram-as-many-sights-as-possible-in-one-week Chinese bus tour of Europe. The itinerary is exhausting and Chinese food is the only cuisine consumed from Paris to Luxembourg. Local food is ruled out because the pacing is too leisurely and according to the tour guide “If you eat Western food too fast, you’ll get an upset stomach.” Perhaps this is the flipside to our nonsensical “If you eat Chinese food, you’ll be hungry an hour later” belief.

Photo from <3 Yen

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Out-of-Towners

Radegast Hall: The first in a series of weekend dining of the large and loud variety. Because I’m easily set off, I get aggravated whenever I see (and I feel like I see them a lot) where to take the parents to eat round-ups that suggest places like ABC Kitchen, Joseph Leonard or The Modern because…no, just no. No mixology, tasting menus, vegetable-focused menus or general hipness. My mom and her husband, a.k.a. The Stepdude are visiting from Oregon and after violent windstorms, an intensely fruity passionfruit doughnut at Dough and two candy bars from Liddabit (for later, which my mom declared “not sweet like regular candy bars,” which I took not to be a compliment and gave me insight into my preference for sickeningly sweet desserts and diabetic-ness) at the Brooklyn Flea, I became acquainted with Indian Larry, a Williamsburg motorcycle shop that I had no idea existed because I’m totally ignorant of NYC biker culture (or of any geography). My mom had eggs benedict while the rest of us ate burgers, sausages, sauerkraut and fries. It is odd that brunch is table service while bar food is ordered and picked up from a window. Also, we were the only people over 30 in the entire shoulder-to-shoulder communal seating room.

Pio Pio: My first visit to the newish, sprawling, strangely modern location that sprouted up across the street from the original. There is no going wrong with the Matador Combo (avocado and tomato salad, tostones, roast chicken, salchipapas, rice and beans) and really it’s more sensible for four instead of split between two, as is more typical. I prefer sharing the pitcher of sangria between only two glasses, however. There was nicely spiced, not overly acidic corvina ceviche to start, though not everyone loves raw seafood (or un-battered-and-fried seafood, for that matter) so a chicken tamal was also required and enjoyed.

Dinosaur BBQ: Yes, also big, also booming. I couldn’t even get a reservation for four later than 3:30 on a Sunday, which left some time to kill before the 8pm Yankees game (my first, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit) where I ended up wet and frozen—supposedly, lightening even struck the stadium. Luckily, I had been fortified by a brisket and pork ribs combo with baked beans and a beet, greens and goat cheese side, the vegetable of the day that certainly bested the steamed cauliflower and broccoli at Texas Roadhouse. That the ribs–an optimal ratio of fat to smoky meat–were like a hundred times better, nearly goes without saying. And well, technically Dinosaur is a chain, so there.

Texas Roadhouse

I’m never ever a jerk to service staff, but when “Have you dined with us before?” hits my ears (which isn’t the sole province of chain restaurants) I feel this childish urge to backtalk in some manner. Really, how much explaining should a dining experience require? I always lie and say “yes” to save the spiel. But as a first-timer at Texas Roadhouse, who only knew about the business because it came in fourth place in a survey of favorite casual dining restaurants, I did kind of want to hear what they were about.

Texas roadhouse

“Hand-cut steaks,” sides made from scratch and freshly baked rolls that are whisked from the front counter and brought with you to the table as you’re being seated, it turns out. The staff wearing I Heart My Job t-shirts and periodically breaking into country line dances and why the chicken fingers are called “critters,” were not explained.

While waiting for a table at the bar, we sized up the restaurant with its chilled giant mugs of beer, bloomin’ onions, woody motif and emphasis on steaks, to be an OSI brand. But not so. That fried, battered onion turned out be called a Cactus Blossom, and apparently has nothing to do with Outback Steakhouse, whatsoever.

What the restaurant really reminded me of, particularly the country music and encouragement to throw peanut shells on the floor, was a restaurant in Tigard called BJ’s Roadhouse that I can find no online evidence of (there’s a BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, but that’s not it). I’ll never forget it because it’s where my dad and his wife took me for my birthday right after I turned 21 and I forgot my driver’s license and couldn’t drink away the trauma (no, I did not appreciate chains and suburban trappings in college). The waiter wouldn’t even let me have an O’Doul’s. The evening ended with a watermelon (the only food in the world I hate) and a diabetic cherry pie.

Texas roadhouse rolls

A decade-and-a-half can make all the difference. Now, I’m soothed by honey-cinnamon butter and warm, fluffy rolls and the ability to drink forty ounces of Sam Adams Cherry Wheat beer without being carded. I practically ate the whole basket while scrutinizing the menu. The bread reminded me of the “scones” at a restaurant I ate at once in grade school called Pa’s Kettle (wow, I can’t believe that it still existed in its 1980s form until 2008). They were warm yeasty triangles served with honey-butter that had me in for a surprise when I first tasted a real dense, baking soda-heavy scone (probably at Starbucks, sadly).

Texas roadhouse rattlesnake bites

Rattlesnake Bites are a take on jalapeño poppers with the chiles and cheese mashed up and formed into a fritter and served with a Cajun horseradish dip. “Hand-battered,” don’t forget. I felt health draining from me with each bite–maybe that's the rattlesnake angle?–but who doesn't appreciate a newfangled popper?

Texas roadhouse ribs & chicken

I tested out my favorite Dallas BBQ combo: ribs and chicken. Well, the ribs, despite being a little dried-out and not likely smoked, still tasted more like real barbecue than BBQ’s. Nothing wrong with them. The chicken, though? Ugh, grilled, boneless chicken breast, my enemy. I was picturing a crispy, skin-on leg in my head. This sad poultry part has a place in my weeknight dinner canon, but I never ever want to eat it in a restaurant and I will never understand Americans’ obsession with flavorless white meat. (Apparently, Chinese don’t like chicken breast—or kung pao, but that’s another story.) To be fair, the grilled chicken was moist and not tasteless—the more peppery than sweet sauce helped—it’s just not what I wanted. Baked beans and steamed broccoli, carrots and cauliflower (my attempt at health) were my choices of sides.

Texas roadhouse steaks

They really do hype-up the beef—the cuts are displayed in a butcher-style case in the waiting area—so, James went all big-spender (relatively speaking; the steak and rib combo was $18.99) and ordered a steak and rib combo. I’m still trying to parse our enthusiastic server’s question “Have you had ribeye before?” Did he mean ever in our lives or at Texas Roadhouse? Am I naïve/privileged to think that the average adult in this country has eaten a ribeye at some point? Must tamp urge to sass waitstaff.

No matter. Texas Roadhouse is worth having in my chain restaurant repertoire. I would go again, if only to be able to answer “yes” when asked the inevitable “Have you dined with us before?” question.

Texas Roadhouse * 1000 US Highway 9, Parlin, NJ