Kind of cute, kind of not. The Dunkin' Donuts coffee cup is sort of the best. Just testing how Pinterest posts work on blogs. Follow me there, by the way, if that's your thing. I'm only a sporadic user.
I am surprised by all the vitriol (and large number of comments, frankly) on the 10 Most Annoying Restaurant Trends post on the re-launched (and apparently no-longer-NYC-centric) Zagat blog, but more entertained by commenter #4's suggestion to "Jesus, go back to Shari's then."
Does anyone outside of Oregon even know what Shari's is? I would not be insulted, though, because I miss the 24-hour pie-touting chain.
Also, I do not like dogs in restaurants either, so there.
As I'm going on my fourteenth year in the city, it's easy to forget the things that stood out as a newcomer (and part of the reason why I fantasize about living somewhere new to start from unjaded scratch). Things that I've since discovered aren't even NYC-specific…like Boar's Head. I mean, it's just deli meat, right? The name sounded totally foreign and vaguely exotic when I first arrived in Brooklyn. Clearly the artisanal movement has made a lot of strides since 1998.
I've also always assumed (until this evening, as a matter of fact) that Magic Chef stoves were a deeply ingrained part of the rental fabric of the city. I'd never heard of the brand until I was haunted by it in my last "garden" i.e. illegal basement apartment for its inability to actually roast anything. The one Thanksgiving my mom visited, the turkey wouldn't get to serving temperature after practically an entire day in the oven. I just chalked it up to being one of many consequences of the cheapo shortcuts taken in this Sunset Park apartment. Sadly, it didn't occur to me to take a photo at the time since this was pre-digital camera-crazed days.
So, I was surprised to see the exact same Magic Chef (with the exact same heating problems) in the Carroll Gardens duplex I moved into in 2004 at 3.5 times the rent (it was at least 3.5 times better, so no complaints there). I've since come to accept that Magic Chefs are a part of NYC rental life, and I'll never be able to escape until I own, which will be like never.
That doesn't stop me from going to open houses, though. And it doesn't stop the Magic Chefs either. Last year, I saw a house that I still like and that's still for sale ah, it's in contract, but so far away in Ditmas Park. It's enormous, like five bedrooms and a driveway and a garage enormous. It was asking just shy of $1.5 million at the time. And it had a Magic Chef. Possibly the world's oldest Magic Chef. I would've dated it late '70s, maybe early '80s. You can sort of gauge it from the photo used in the ad.
Last weekend I encountered another $1.5 million Magic Chef in a Clinton Hill brownstone and the oven was even older! The house was such a dump for the price that it made me feel violent, then depressed, then try to mentally justify that Ditmas Park isn't that far, after all. (I'm not linking because I'm weird about not wanting to insult people even when they try selling things for insulting prices) This time I took a photo. I thought maybe this was a group home or half-way house so I didn't want to be too judgmental, but the note to visitors on the equally decrepit fridge made a reference to the bnb, so what?! Travelers from somewhere are willing paying to pay for the privilege of using this Magic Chef while on vacation.
While futiley searching for a possible Magic Chef Flickr pool, I discovered that the brand isn't NYC-centric in the least.
Magic Chef ad via The Atom Mom
Media-ish parties can be fun (on the rare occasion I'm invited) but they're not generally the best source of food even when hosted in restaurants. After a couple hours of alternating red and white wine and a few nibbles of fancy chicken nuggets and shrimp tempura I needed something substantial yet non-starchy. Hence, Coppelia's take on a Cobb salad with roast pork and chicharrón. A few drops of habanero sauce was my own handiwork. Better than my occasional Cobb-esque salad from Pret a Manger, but probably also twice as caloric. Oh, and and a spicy cucumber cocktail.
After spending part of a Meat Hook gift certificate (that I gave James for Christmas) on fancy pork chops (though I scoff, part of me does wonder if my Western Beef meat is giving me diabetes) and lamb casings to make homemade (would you prefer artisanal?) wieners for all-scratch Super Bowl pigs in a blanket, I didn't feel like trying any of the newish restaurants in Williamsburg that I've meant to (Isa, Allswell, Mercado on Kent, Fushimi [really!]) plus it was too early for real dinner. Instead, we headed to beer-centric Alewife in Long Island City. I didn't realize I'd already been to this spot's two former incarnations: Lucky Mojo, the bbq/Cajun mashup and whatever the bbq place was that preceded it (not to eat but to have a drink after that transit strike fiasco in 2005–the midtown ferry is a block away). I didn't even mind that it was the baby dining time after a 21st Amendment Back in Black IPA and roast beef slider. That sounds kind of eh, but it's really two mini sandwiches on rye (supposedly "house baked") with said roast beef, melted swiss, caramelized onions, and the best part: horseradish-spiked creme fraiche on the side which I used as a dip. Too dark for cameraphones and I was SLR-less.
Bánh mì has come to Prague. The Czech Republic is home to a growing number of Vietnamese immigrants and consequently restaurants serving pho and the like are on the rise. I don't know much about the Czech palate, but I could see pickles, salami, or hard-boiled eggs being integrated in a bánh mì/chlebíčky mash up (I just wanted to play with as many special characters as possible in a sentence).
A small number of Cambodian refugees who came to the US in the '70s are returning to their home country. One opened a fast food joint in Phnom Penh called Mike's Burger House. And apparently there isn't much competition since no international chains yet exist in the country (I thought Burger King had its sights set on Cambodia over a year ago, but so far they just have a knock-off).
Photo credit: Things I Ate in Cambodia
Even though I'm not crazy about gambling or prime rib, I have developed a bit of an obsession with downtown Las Vegas's Four Queens, the only casino where I ever win anything, which I attribute to my long-gone great grandmother, and the cheap meat meal deals advertised all along Freemont Street. If you dine at Magnolia's Veranda, both can be experienced at the same time.
From 4pm to midnight, you can get a slab of meat, complete with baked potato and steamed carrots. No, the prime rib doesn't really taste like much of anything (that's what the gravy or jus, whatever, is for) and it's a little gristly. I only had two bites anyway. We were too late our first Friday in town (thanks to an asshole who got into a fight with the flight attendants just as we were about to take off from JFK and had to return to the gate and get security to boot him off and retrieve his luggage from the hull, which wasted an hour) to make the midnight cutoff, and on New Year's Day we were too early at 2pm and drove to get a Double-Double and animal-style fries to hold us over until 4:30pm when a line (!) had formed up the carpeted stairs of Magnolia's Veranda (there were plenty of seats; they were just understaffed).
First you get a salad, though.
Shrimp cocktail and a $4 mini bottle of Gallo merlot exemplifies the Four Queens ethos. Risky maybe, but the iceburg lettuce and chilled shrimp in a glass parfait was one of the only non-carby thing on the menu, and I was trying to save my appetite for dinner, three-and-a-half hours away at Lotus of Siam where my $116 in Caveman Keno winnings were well-spent.
I would only recommend Magnolia's Veranda for hardcore old Vegas enthusiasts.
To the left of the entrance and downstairs is Hugo's Cellar, a not inexpensive restaurant that has not seen a remodel since the day it opened–the video says it all (click into dining). I really wanted to go experience the tableside Caesar salad, flambéed desserts, and free red rose for the ladies, but with limited time in town ended up doing the early bird $69 prix fixe at Jean Georges Steakhouse in modern, tastefully flashy Vegas, where you still end up spending more than $200 when you add in a side and wine pairings (though not a bad deal). I wondered what the difference would be between the upstairs prime rib at Magnolia's and Hugo's $42 version.
Magnolia's Veranda * Four Queens Casino, 202 Fremont St., Las Vegas, NV
Sure, we have Turkish food in NYC, but it’s not as ingrained in our culture as in Berlin. I wouldn't call it a top of mind cuisine. And while our love of gyros matches a German fondness for doner kebabs, our geographically generic shaved meat in a pita isn’t particularly Turkish or Greek or…whatever it's supposed to be.
Cafeteria-style Mercan, in Kreuzberg, is as good as any place to get acquainted with homey Turkish cooking. For only 6 euros, you can pick an entree (in the American sense–we're the only weirdos who use the term to mean the main dish, not a starter) from the handful of giant metal pans behind glass at the counter, choose rice or bulger, and salad or dessert. Nothing is labeled—the only written indications are in German on the chalkboards out front–but it's likely that one of the cooks will be able to speak enough English to explain the basics.
You may find a thick ground lamb and eggplant dish slicked with mildly spicy oil (perfect for dipping the fluffy focaccia-like bread), the abergin musakka. I've always wondered why countries like England and Germany use French words for so many food items, or are we the weirdos again with our eggplants and zucchinis? When a server at speakeasy, Beckett's Kopf, described a cocktail to me using the term "pamplemousse," I remarked, "oh, grapefruit," and he got all flustered like I was correcting him (I was not). I'm still trying to figure out the German temperament.
Or you can have Lamm nacken a.k.a. lamb shank stewed with potatoes. There are plenty of non-lamb options, by the way.
Rice is fortified with meaty white beans. I think they refer to this style with slivered nuts and cooked in broth as pilaf.
The chopped cucumber, tomato, and onion salad was a little bland even with the sliced chiles and a squeeze of lemon. It wasn’t until after I finished eating that I noticed other diners making a dressing with the oil and vinegar on the table. Of course. I'm not used to d.i.y. dressing, though it seems commonplace in other countries–Spain and Argentina, off the top of my head.
Mercan * Wiener Strasse 10, Berlin, Germany
Just as you can't really assess a restaurant's true nature based on a Christmas buffet, I can't say that China Poblano's New Year's Eve tasting menu is necessarily representative of a typical meal in Jose Andres' more casual casino restaurant. Many of the dishes served that evening aren't on the regular menu. For a traditionally price-gouging evening (if I were crazy, senseless rich I would've done the $1,300 Times Square T.G.I. Friday's event) I thought the two $45 (nine courses) and $65 (ten courses with slightly more luxurious ingredients) tasting menus were fairly priced. I ended up trying the latter.
My only issue was that dishes came out rapid-fire so that at any given moment, there were four sitting on the table at once. More like tapas than a tidy procession, (combined with a propensity for slow eating) at least half ended up being cold by the time we got around to eating them. I don't know how they would've possibly executed the four-cocktail drink pairing also being offered. So, I can't say if my favorite dishes were just the ones I happened to sample at their optimal temperature. The sense was that the staff was trying to wrap everything up by midnight.
Us, we had no desire to be on the strip to ring in 2012 as our eyeballs had already maxed out on stumbling packs of ladies squeezed into barely-butt-covering sausage casing dresses. It's one thing to be surrounded by small packs in casinos, The Cosmopolitan in particular (those ubiquitous kooky TV ads must work–or maybe it was the giant stiletto sculpture where I had to force myself not to take pictures of the girls taking pictures of themselves sitting inside the oversized shoe. Besides, Flickr is fertile ground for such shots already), but packed in among thousands felt apocalyptic.
Carne Apache tenderloin crudo/ chile pasilla de Oaxaca/pickled cactus and Traditional Sui Mai shrimp/pork/ water chestnuts/mushrooms/peanuts. The chile-spiked beef tartare was a hit, but the pork and shrimp dumplings dusted with gold leaf soon distracted. It wasn't a battle, but the tartare prevailed. The more successful–or more exciting, rather–dishes almost always were the least conventional.
Ceviche de Kampachi grapefruit/ mint/serrano pepper and Hawaiian Blue Prawns with Salsa Negra prawns/chipotle chile/piloncillo/garlic. The ceviche and sweet-and-smoky prawns that almost seemed Indian, were the two favorites of the evening. Maybe I'm just responding to the micro-herbs and flower petals as haute cuisine signifiers. The green puree is a mystery; the texture was like saag but not spinach, and didn't distinctly taste of cilantro, mint, or parsley either. Neither dish was overtly Chinese nor Mexican.
Carnitas Taco braised baby pig/pork rinds/ spicy salsa verde cruda and Flautas de Pato slow braised duck/mole Mihateco. The flautas and tacos got ignored for the competing seafood above, so they weren't at their prime. (Also, I may have ruined my appetite by making a late lunch in the hotel room with carnitas and corn tortillas purchased at Mariana's Supermarket. NYC desperately needs a real suburban-style Latino grocery store, like a Hispanic Hong Kong Supermarket, not a glorified bodega.)
Dragon’s Nest pan fried egg noodles/whole live lobster/shiitake mushrooms/ carrot butterflies
Twenty-Vegetable Fried Rice fresh vegetables/fried rice. The lobster (half, for what it's worth) dish was very Cantonese with the crisp-bottomed egg noodles and a light brothy soy-based sauce. We barely made it past the seafood component and couldn't even think of eating the fried rice (somehow the carrot butterflies ended up here) after a few bites of noodles. We actually brought the rice back (as well as Lotus of Siam beef jerky, jackfruit curry, and chile basil duck, and those carnitas and corn tortillas from earlier–we hate waste and love leftovers) in our luggage to NYC because there was nothing post-holidays to eat in the house. I didn't have the wherewithal to count the vegetables, though the baby turnip (more like a zygote) no bigger than a pinkie toe, was adorable.
Cajeta Flan goat’s milk caramel/pineapple and Chocolate Terracotta Warrior caramelized banana/sesame/ginger. I don't think we were supposed to get both desserts, and we certainly couldn't finish them (though I appreciated the gesture, prompted after we couldn't decide between the two). I preferred the flan simply because caramel feels lighter than chocolate. The chocolate warrior was very impressive even if the figurine (filled with chocolate mousse, by the way) was probably not supposed to be lying down on the job.
When I first heard of the Salt Air Margarita, I imagined a glass entirely filled with foam like a Czech pilsner served mliko-style. No, the "air" is simply a layer of salty fluff atop the cocktail, that works perfectly to balance the lime juice's sourness–unless you're one of those freaks who likes their margaritas frozen with no salt rim. Normally, I would branch out and try a different style drink for round two, but I rarely encounter sal de gusano, the chile/salt/powdered worm condiment drank with mezcal in Oaxaca, in the US. Why not use it as a margarita rim?
China Poblano is probably best experienced in small bursts. If I were back in Vegas I would likely stop in for a duck tongue and lychee taco and pork buns, two enticing things I didn't have a chance to try.
China Poblano * The Cosmopolitan, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas, NV
Schwarzwaldstuben and Renger-Patzsch are both solid neighborhood restaurants in opposite corners of Berlin. Neither are secrets with locals nor tourists. Schwarzwaldstuben, the more Williamsburgy of the two (though it’s hard to tell where the rampant displays of antlers diverges from tradition into irony in Berlin) in Mitte (which I’d characterize as more of a Carroll Gardens) wasn’t exactly a snap to get into.
Unlike, say, a Prime Meats, though, they do take reservations because Germans are reservations crazy, yet calling Monday while at JFK still couldn’t snag us a seat any sooner than that Thursday. I think part of the issue is that unlike in NYC where tables constantly turnover and it’s expected that you’ll promptly vacate after eating, in Berlin, like much of Europe, you’ve essentially booked a table for the night. People get up, smoke, come back, take breaks between courses, order a round of drinks after eating, smoke some more, another round of drinks, no rush.
So, first we ate at the slightly less hectic, but reservations-needed Renger-Patzsch in Schoenenberg, a neighborhood I can’t really peg because the walk from the S-Bahn was dark and kind of desolate with most businesses closed for the evening, everyone tucked into their apartments.
Gebratene Elsässer Blutwurst mit krossem Speck und Rahmsauerkraut. I love blood sausage from all cuisines, but this version was particularly good. Sliced into three pieces, there was more surface area to crisp up and caramelize. I just noticed that my copy and paste from their menu has creamed sauerkraut instead of the lentils I was served. I love pickled cabbage, but the more French leaning legumes were a solid pairing, especially with the bacon.
Tarte flambée végétarienne: mit Lauch, Walnüssen und Bleu d´Auvergne. The menu has Alsatian touches like the extensive list of flammekueche a.k.a. tarte flambée. I love these thin, crackly pizzas but a whole square tart for one person is kind of too much with an appetizer even if the waitress says otherwise. I succumbed to this vegetarian one with sauteed leeks, walnuts, and Bleu d’Auvergne because I can never not order something that contains that soft Brie-like blue cheese. If it’s in the house, I’ll pick at the wedge until it disappears (usually, three days later). The American in me wanted to take my remainders for later, but that isn’t done.
Elsässer Sauerkraut mit Schäufele, Eisbein, Kassler und Rauchwurst. An Alsatian pork platter with knuckle, smoked sausage, salt pork, and shoulder. Plus, boiled potatoes, sauerkraut, and sharp mustard on the side. This was not listed as charcroute garni, but isn’t it?
Schwarzwaldstuben also served flammekueche, but the cuisine is supposedly more Swabian with pasta dishes like maultaschen, a ravioli-like dumpling, and spaetzle. The menu is not huge (and not online, so no German here) with no real appetizer/main convention, and revolved around a lot of bacon-studded potatoes, gravy, cabbage, sautéed mushrooms, and braised meats. And not particularly lightened-up nor downsized, which is not a complaint.
Schnitzels are also served, of course. I am still getting the variations straight and if I’m correct this pan-fried pork cutlet would be schweineschnitzel or maybe schnitzel wiener art (Vienna-style schnitzel).
I didn’t mean to eat roast venison twice in a week; it just happened.
This was a special that was verbally described to me as “deer,” (of course our server could speak pretty good English–and French in addition to German) after miming at the faux taxidermy (there were also real antlers, no heads). Stewed meat and cabbage might not sounds so alluring on paper, but with rich gravy and buttery spinach spaetzle, it’s the best kind of cold weather food.
By the way, the other venison dish, the first thing we ate after landing, was at the Party Haus in the Alexanderplatz Christmas market. Late night, it’s like the German version of a Jersey Shore club: bouncers, screaming, stumbling, fueled by Jägermeister.
At 6pm, it was groups of senior sipping Glühwein and us just pointing to something on the English-free menu: wildbraten, gefüllt mit Pilzen wurzigem kase, überbacken mit Preiselbeeren, Pfännchen, serviert. It turned out be a pan filled with venison chunks, mushrooms, peppers, corn kernels, bound by melted cheese with a blob of cranberry jelly, like the long lost brother of an Applebee’s Sizzling Entree.
Schwarzwaldstuben * Tucholskystraße 48, Berlin, Germany
Renger-Patzsch * Wartburgstraße 54, Berlin, Germany