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Eaten, Barely Blogged: Gyro Crazy

Umi nom dinner

Umi Nom
Yeah, yeah, Do or Dine is the Bed-Stuy BYOB joint of the moment, but I haven’t even been to Umi Nom yet. I’ll be seeing that foie gras doughnut in 2013. Umi Nom, which really isn’t that Filipino despite many online references to it being a Filipino restaurant, very much deserves a full write-up and three shovels, but I just remembered my 2011 vow to blog less about what I eat (ha, I have not used this category since June). Initially, I wondered why someone would pay $2 for three hot sauces, a seemingly audacious menu option, but after tasting the fiery, fish-saucy red accompaniment to the sweet sausage and sticky rice I realized chef King Phojanakong knows how to blend chiles and aromatics. I’d pay $2 to sample more. This was my favorite dish followed by the not-that-traditional adobo pork belly in an opaque sauce. I only wish I had ordered rice to temper the saltiness even though I’m trying to go easy on starch. The rice vermicelli with grilled beef was kind of dull (it needed more fish sauce funk in the dressing) and the pork stuffing in the spring rolls reminded me more of lobak in their denseness (I liked, James not as much) than cha gio (which they weren’t advertised as). Three out of four hits and a 2009 bottle of Keller Riesling Trocken equaled a pleasant Saturday night meal (mixing beer, tequila and an Aviation at Black Swan afterwards was pleasant at the time but not so much Sunday morning).

Gyro King
As recently as two years ago I’d never eaten a gyro, and now I’m a pro. Well, not really. While exploring Ditmas Park (and realizing a house for sale that we had been looking at was technically in Midwood) for potential livability and searching for turmeric (Key Food nor any of the bodegas/delis around Foster St. had it) we stumbled upon a Pakistani street fair on Coney Island Ave. I picked up a box of mithai at Gourmet Sweets and was coerced into takeout from Gyro King, which is like street meat but indoors, and found a goldmine of turmeric and was regaled with stories about its magical medicinal properties. Also, I learned that some Pakistanis like making a beverage out of the yellow spice, which is going too far if you ask me.

A new Wednesday night ritual involves picking up something from Waterfalls and then having a few drinks at Last Exit or Floyd after my evening Spanish class nearby. This time, a split falafel sandwich (pitas wrapped around and things and held together by foil are gyros, right?) and lamb schwarma platter. I wish more places stayed open past 10pm on weeknights along the corridor of Henry Street from Atlantic Avenue to Fourth Place.

Blue Ribbon Brooklyn

Someplace sit-down with real food on the later side. A shared half-dozen Beausoleil and Kumamoto oysters were followed by a lamb steak with couscous and spiced chickpeas. The food always strikes me as a few dollars more than it should be, and I’m always attracted the appetizers like the bone marrow or steak tartare but feel they’re inadequate for a dinner entrée, but James likes going and that’s fine if he’s paying. Overheard at the bar in regard to an speedy oyster shucker: “Look at that Mexican nigga!” Ok, then…

Capital Grille

The lord giveth…and taketh away. I eat at Capital Grille, the Darden-owned steakhouse would feel more appropriate in the downtown of a mid-sized city, and then mere days later discover that Little Lad's, my favorite vegan, Seventh-Day Adventist restaurant hidden in the basement of the same Financial District building, has packed up and moved into a Lower East Side church. I somehow feel responsible for setting this chain of events into motion.

Capital grille interior

Even though I only work three blocks away, it’s not like dining at Capital Grille crosses my mind with regularity. At lunch its business is drawn from surrounding offices, at night, especially on a Friday, the showier than expected—live band, taxidermy, and a private dining room in a former bank vault—bi-level restaurant was luring tourists hard. Camera in hand, I was certainly pegged as one. Using a 30% off discount from Savored might have not helped my case either (hey, Savored is classy—I do think getting rid of the Village Vines name was a good move). This does not bother me at chains. If there’s one thing they’re good for, it’s serving as Manhattan havens from the food trend obsessed.

And how trendy could a steakhouse from the people behind Olive Garden and Red Lobster be? (To be fair, it’s much higher end brand than their LongHorn Steakhouse.) Meat and seafood is the story.

Capital grille starters

Chilled oysters (of what provenance, I couldn’t even tell you) and lobster-and-crab cakes with corn relish. I like the lemon wrapped in netting touch.

Capital grille steak & fries

A medium-rare porterhouse with a good amount of char, fattiness and the slightest bit of funk (which I like). Even as a chain-admirer, I tend to stay away from Outback Steakhouse and its ilk because the beef barely has flavor. This is a real steak with a real steak price ($47) and real calories (980–one oddity of being a chain is that the menu must list them). Truffle oil was in the air, so I acquiesced and shared a cone of parmesan truffle fries (only 30 calories less than the steak).

Capital grille vault-1

The bank vault. Capital Grille is not the only restaurant on Broadway with such a feature.

Playing tourist at capital grille After you’ve been identified as a tourist (this generally only happens when I’m in other countries, and it’s really weird when you’re traveling alone, taking pictures of your food and someone, especially a guy, asks if you want your photo taken and you have to say yes because that seems like the right answer even though you might not like having your picture taken) that the inevitable, “Do you want me to take a picture of you?” question arises. I don’t, because the result is generally horrifying.

Garbage across the street

If I were a tourist I might be bothered by the amount of garbage piled up across the street.

Capital Grille * 120 Broadway, New York, NY

Price’s Chicken Coop & Keaton’s BBQ

I’m not going to blow your mind with any North Carolina revelations. I was only there for a weekend (with a jaunt to Virginia in the middle) and stuck with common knowledge (if you’re a Roadfood/Chowhound type) regional favorites. Frankly, that’s the way to go. Without naming names, Charlotte’s entry into “farm-to-fork” dining was a total dud (you tout so-called small plates but don’t allow sharing without a surcharge?) and the two revamped diners on the same block had service so misguided that it bordered on abusive.

Price's chicken interior

Ok, then, chicken. You will not go wrong with fried chicken, especially not at Price’s, a takeout counter always lined by bodies, ordering, waiting, pondering…ok, I was the only one really scrutinizing the menu, both on the outside window and the ancient version covered with computer-printed price addendums above the cashier ladies’ heads. Everyone else knew exactly what they wanted.

Chicken coop chicken

I settled on a half chicken mixed (dark and white meat) with default tater rounds (I forgot to ask for hushpuppies, the favored starch in these parts) and coleslaw, regular coleslaw, unlike ruddy, spiced version I encountered at barbecue joints. The skin was thick and crispy enough to hold up hours later (this was just for pre-dinner nibbling) and seasoned primarily with salt and a good deal of pepper, nothing fancy.

Price's chicken coop gizzards

Chewy gizzards fried fresh on the spot are an ideal snack to gnaw on. I felt like I wanted to dip them in something, though. Maybe a few shakes of vinegary hot sauce would’ve been right.

Keaton's bbq signs

Now Keaton’s is a whole other bird, fried and sauced. About an hour north of Charlotte, the roadside bunker sits miles and miles into fields, legitimately in the middle of nowhere Pre-internet, how did word spread about these far-from-hubs eateries?

Inside, it feels like a big rec room that happens to have a counter and kitchen attached. The wood-paneled walls are filled with faded prints, latchhook art and clippings of long-deceased owner, Burette Walker Keaton, many with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. According to one of the guys waiting for his takeout order who was pushing the limits of the posted no shirt, no shoes rule mumbled something in a hard to decipher manner (I think I have the Northern version of that affliction) about how he always had a cigarette while cooking.

Keaton's bbq dining room

There was also a sign banning photography of staff members. The room was not this empty, I just waited for the opportunity between tables turning to quickly snap a shot lest I be targeted as a rule-breaker. (I’d already shunned the sweet tea and couldn’t risk appearing like even more of an outsider).

Keaton's bbq beverages

If one person orders sweet tea, they will be given an entire pitcher. Sure, the ice takes up a lot of room in the ubiquitous giant Styrofoam cup (standard issue at every casual restaurant in the region) but that’s still a lot of sweet tea. For the record, the sweet tea at Price’s hit a new high in sugar content. I’m not convinced there was even an ounce of tannic leaf-derived refreshment in that syrupy blend. I ordered a bottle of Cheerwine just because I could. A little of the cherry red soda goes a long way, but it sure is pretty.

Keaton's bbq plate

I was expecting a sweetish, tangy barbecue sauce but the red stuff was more complex, peppery with a little kick. I did order hot. There was a vague jerk vibe, too; maybe allspice was at play. I had been wondering if the fried skin+sauce would approximate a Southern version of Korean fried chicken, but no, not really. The saucing rendered the crispy skin secondary. It wasn’t as superfluous as dousing shell-on crab a la Singapore, which I’ll never understand, but the beauty of the frying process does get mitigated once soaked in warm liquid. This was good chicken, but I missed the crunch. That’s the spicy slaw I was talking about above–and a slab of mac and cheese.

The pop-pop of shotguns rang out in the thicket of trees across the street from the parking lot. I have no idea what was being hunted, but at least it gave more credence to the camo and guns crew that had been dining inside Keaton’s.

Price’s Chicken Coop * 1614 Camden Rd., Charlotte, NC
Keaton’s Barbecue Chicken * 17365 Cool Springs Rd., Cleveland, NC


Have It Your Way

Photo: Brianpbrady/Travelpod

I said no more McDonald’s oddities from foreign countries, not no Burger King knock-offs in China. So, have a gander at KDS, Texas Burger, and Cheese Burger.

A Ban on Bubur Ayam

Photo: A Texan-American Way of Life

I’ll always be a sucker for localized fast food menus in other countries, but I think there needs to be a moratorium on oddities from around the world round-ups. It feels like one pops up every month—and McDonald’s Bubur Ayam always gets a mention. Zagat is just the latest to get involved.

Variations exist on CNNGo, HowStuffWorks, BusinessInsider (ugh, with palettes in the URL), Time, Weird Asia News, Chicago Tribune, Food Network Humor, BuzzFeed, and…ok, you get the idea.

This week, why not read about American vs Mexican breakfast cereal or American snack foods with unusual varieties abroad? Fruit flavored Pringles was a new one to me.

Also, Jarritos, those colorful Mexican sodas in glass bottles, is trying to expand its audience to “18- to 24-year-old, non-Hispanic, trend-setting males.” I noticed Jarritos ads (before I read the New York Times article, so I don't think I was being re-targeted) on The Rumpus a few days ago, which was a surprise. I don’t know if the brand’s target demographic overlaps significantly with the literary site’s readers.


Pretzel Time


Every now and then I stumble upon one of my photos on another site. (Having a Creative Commons license on Flick never used to be an problem—I’m fine with nobody bloggers using photos with credit—but now legit publications like, Time Out NY  and Esquire are looking for freebies, which I can’t abide much longer. Pro/group blogs like Brooklyn Based, Food Republic and The Kitchn are a gray area.)

But I’ve only once seen the same photo–a basket of pretzel rolls, oddly enough–used twice. I would not mention this at all, except that today’s usage reinforced a mania I experienced over the weekend.

Do you ever see a dish and think “I must have that!” For me, this tends to happen with fast food ads even though I rarely eat fast food. (I tagged along to Sonic on Saturday so James could see if its new Kickin’ Coney matched the elaborate concoction in the commercial. Uh, not really.)

I’m mesmerized by the idea of Red Robin’s new limited edition Oktoberfest Bürger on a pretzel bun. The execution could be lackluster for all I know (I’m a little distrustful of a chain that offers bottomless steak fries—AYCE, fine, but eh, steak fries are the lowest rung in fry hierarchy.) but the notion of a burger topped with swiss cheese, beer mustard onions and black forest ham is oddly compelling. I have a weird thing for German food (especially considering the above-mentioned pretzel roll photo was taken in Bangkok, not Berlin).

I have until November 6 to decide if it’s worth the 12.5 miles to Clifton, NJ to try this burger in person.

El Anzuelo Fino

Even though I feel like they (whoever they are) have been saying it years, Peruvian is supposed to be the hot new cuisine (I’m torn, because as much as I love Peruvian food, I was hoping for Filipino to take that honor). Maybe so. And I’ll be waiting to see how NYC responds to the big, modern version at La Mar Cebicheria opening this week.

Meanwhile, I went small. I’m such a slave to Pio Pio that I never give any of the other Peruvian options on Northern Boulevard a chance. How many matador combos can one person eat before branching out? El Anzuelo Fino needed trying (El Sol does too).

El anzuelo fino corn nuts

Gastón Acurio's curl-topped face was all over a travel/cooking show playing on the television in the front dining room. I wonder how much of a crossover audience will be shared between this small, Jackson Heights corner restaurant and La Mar Cebicheria?

El anzuelo fino ceviche mixto

Ceviche mixto is always an accurate benchmark. Here, cubes of raw firm fish, likely corvina, shrimp, octopus rings and a single green-lipped mussel were the mix. This is the only restaurant where I’ve been asked about spice level and given a dish with a genuinely hot kick in addition to the lime’s tartness, which by itself can be one-note.

El anzuelo fino corvina rellena con mariscos

With fish hook in the name and a fish waiter logo, napkin draped over one fin and a plate of food on the other, nearly as cute as Pio Pio’s chick in clogs, seafood was in order. Red snapper seemed like too much for one, and my concession, one of the many corvina dishes, was not exactly light. The filet is fried and comes sculpted around a center of shrimp, mussels, and octopus (cooked ceviche mixto, essentially) in a creamy, lightly spicy sauce (that’s even better with a few squirts of the hot green sauce in a squeeze bottle that thankfully you don’t have to ask for). Surrounded by logs of yuca (and served with default white rice) this golden mound is not dainty, but the inevitable leftovers hold up well. Sure, I’ll eat a ball of seafood for breakfast.

El anzuelo fino churrasco a lo pobre

Or you can order a sirloin steak, typically thin and well-done (ask for it rarer). Bistek a lo pobre with maduros, rice, fries and a runny-yolked egg is like breakfast for dinner.

El anzuelo fino sangria

My original plan was a nightcap at Amaru, the newish pisco bar from Pio Pio (and in their old space) but after stiff two-for-one cocktails at The Astor Room and half of a pitcher of sangria, I wasn’t feeling the need for a Rocoto Sour—at least not with the two bouncers out front and thumping bass trying to escape the closed doors. Maybe on a weeknight.

El Anzuelo Fino * 86-01 Northern Blvd., Jackson Heights, NY

Taking the Cake

Black swan cake
If I were a Tumblr type, I would post pics all day without commentary. Instead, I’m preoccupied and must make notes to myself that I quickly forget to blog about. Case in point: Doom Cakes, which I squirreled away months ago after first hearing about it and only now remembered while stuck on a couch in a head cold stupor, wasting away an entire valuable Sunday.

This site is devoted to  the “cinematic tradition in which any beautifully decorated cake serves as a harbinger of imminent catastrophe (often including the destruction of said cake)” and it is awesome.

Chain Links: Dubai Does It Again

Dubai texas roadhouse

Nothing surprises me anymore. Texas Roadhouse barely has a presence in the NYC area, and yet the restaurant known for line-dancing servers and freshly baked rolls has opened at The Dubai Mall. I really need to pay a visit to Dubai, it seems. It’s more American than the America I live in.

Bulgogi Brothers (ugh, with the exception of fictional Pollos Hermanos, I hate the word brothers in a title, i.e. Property Brothers, it’s as if a grade-schooler as allowed to be in charge) a Korean bbq chain has opened in the Philippines. Two other Korean operations, Caffe Bene and Bistro Seoul, plan to be in NYC within the next five years.

The East Village’s ChikaLicious Dessert Bar will be opening a branch in Tokyo as well transporting the more casual sibling, Dessert Club, to Hong Kong.

A new terminal has opened in Macedonia’s Alexander the Great airport and it happens to house the country’s first Burger King.

Frisby, the Colombian fried chicken chain, has partnered with Sarku Japan, an American QSR, to bring teriyaki to Pereira, Medellin and Cali. More cities are on the horizon.

Country Chicken, an Australian fried chicken and pizza chain, already has franchises in New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, United Emirates, Russia and Fiji. India is next.

Smashburger will be opening in Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. I cannot entertain eating at a place called Smashburger because it triggers thoughts of Smash Mouth. And no matter how big the '90s revival becomes, no one needs to hear "All Star" or jesus, "Walkin' on the Sun" ever again.

Niceness Cannot Be Taught

Obama olive garden
Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta /AP

I suppose that Darden restaurants vowing to cut calories and sodium and not serving fries as a default side to children is a big news. I just view this as an opportunity to post a photo of Michelle Obama at Olive Garden. I mean, we all know that’s an Olive Garden despite the vague caption:

“First Lady Michelle Obama, accompanied by Darden chef Julie Elkinton, second from right, talks to Charisse McElroy, right, and her daughter Jacqueline McElroy, 9, during a Let’s Move! event in one of Darden’s national restaurants in Hyattsville, Md.”

The real news is that the Times Square Applebee’s did $13.5 million in business last year, the highest of all Applebee’s in existence. The New York Times interviews NYC franchisee, Zane Tankel, and he is full of insights about how the city’s Applebee’s differ from the rest of the world. For one, potential hires are kind of horrible here.

“In the New York market it’s hard to find people with good attitudes, so we try and hire by personality. We can teach you to cook, to make a drink, to be a server, but we can’t teach you how to be nice.”

Also, he went rogue and added karaoke at the Staten Island location even though it violates corporate policy.

Adweek reports that chains are trying to attract a more discriminating customer, but ad campaigns aren't cutting it. Apparently, there a something called "wet meat" advertising–and it's not a good thing. Dry meat=upscale?