Skip to content

Archive for

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Clinton Hill Times Three

Soco red velvet waffle and chickenSoCo I’ve been spending time in Clinton Hill recently, trying to assess the livability of the neighborhood (I would say the prognosis is good; we put an offer on a condo yesterday). I’m not a total stranger to the area since I did work at Pratt briefly in the late ’90s (my first-ever, full-time salaried job [$22,000] which I left to work at a food website–yes, they existed 13 years ago–for $3,000 more. Everyone got laid off six months later…) but Myrtle Avenue has ten million more bars and restaurants than in my day. SoCo was the craziest (well, the booming sit-down Chino-Latino place with the name I always forget technically was) in that there was a huge crowd spilling out onto the sidewalk. More club than restaurant. But the next afternoon, the post-brunch crowd seemed mellower so I joined in, lured by the promise of fried chicken and red velvet waffles on the window menu. It’s the most popular dish, too, I was told. I would estimate that at least half of the tables had at least one plate of red waffles on it. The mash-up was far less breakfast/dinner than dinner/dessert hybrid. The sweetness was there, and pumped up by the maple syrup, but the cocoa flavor almost grounded it. You really didn’t feel like you were eating chicken and cake, just a tasty new form of fat and carbs. Lovers of unnaturally colored food and nonsensical flavor combinations will be pleased.

Speedy romeo dick dale pizza-001Speedy Romeo I love processed cheese, not just Velveeta and Cheez Whiz, but thickly sliced deli cheese, too, all extra creamy and salty. I also love Hawaiian pizza, so it’s almost as if Speedy Romeo’s Dick Dale was custom made for me. Using popular-in-St. Louis Provel cheese (a melty, processed cheese that combines cheddar, swiss and provolone) plus pineapple and smoky speck ham on a wood-fired pizza is pure genius. Adding a spoonful of pickled chiles, the restaurant’s condiment of record, provides a sharp contrast against the smoother, sweet flavors, and makes this pizza one of my all-time favorites. That is not say, all will love it, especially considering ham and pineapple is a scourge to purists, never mind the utterly un-artisanal cheese. Oh, Slice covered this very pizza this week with a nice slide show and everything–I had no idea it contained béchamel.

Putnam’s Pub It’s a gastropub, nothing out of the ordinary, but good to know about if a late night roasted bone marrow or devils on horseback (not bacon-wrapped dates here, which is the usual interpretation, but fried oyster topped deviled eggs) craving strikes.

Sunset park diner & donuts grilled cheese sandwichSunset Park Diner & Donuts I never ate here once when I lived down the street, though that’s not really a judgment of the restaurant but more about my rarely eating at diners. It’s slim pickings for post-2am dining in the area, and they do a grilled cheese with bacon deluxe, i.e. with fries, as good as anyone. The restaurant is even on Seamless, which is surprising. It almost makes me wish I still lived over there just so I could have french toast and jalapeño poppers delivered to my door at 3am.

Localized: KFC Philippines


Some limited edition fast food novelties go untouched by the internet while others blast onto the scene begging to be blogged about. Such is the case with KFC Philippines' new "streetwise" Cheese Top Burger that, yes, inexplicably drapes a slice of what appears to be American cheese atop the bun rather than tucked away inside. So simple–some might say lazy–so unexpected.

The concept of a cheese-topped bun isn't exactly unheard of in the Philippines. Ensaymadas, though, typically use Edam, and shredded, not sliced. Perhaps, what's stranger is that the mesh of cheese blankets a coating of butter and sugar. I've yet to hear of a chicken sandwich on an ensaymada, though (yes, I'm trying to give KFC new ideas).

Instead, we'll have to be comforted by five other items KFC sells in the Philippines that we don't have:

Ala king big

Chicken Ala King with rice and corn.

Kung pao big

Kung Pao Chicken, also with corn.


"Pinoy-style" spaghetti, which means super sweet sauce with cut up weiners. Spaghetti is also available as a combo with fried chicken, which is very Jollibee of them.


Cali Maki Twister is fusion to the utmost degree. They take a standard tortilla and breaded, fried chicken filet, then add Japanese mayo, mango and cucumber. I would totally eat this.


Macaroni salad, fries, mashed potatoes and coleslaw were just too reasonable, so KFC had to go and add Mushroom Soup as a side for good measure. Except that they call sides "fixins."

Photos via Filipino Desserts and KFC Philippines

Wildly Wrong

Char burger signWild may be the new Eat, Pray, Love, though I'm guessing with less of the eating? I was surprised to see the Bridge of the Gods mentioned on one of the first pages; it was the author's ending point on her 1,000 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. Do you know what else sits right next to the Bridge of the Gods? Char Burger, the world's best wild west-themed eatery with a cartoon Native American mascot and a view of the Columbia River! I waited 309 pages for the author to reach her final destination–and she celebrates with an ice cream from East Wind Drive-in. WTF? I've never even heard of it. I don't think I can be inspired by an inspirational memoir that doesn't involve Char Burger.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Double Dandelion Greens & Falafel Three Ways

Levant duo

Levant I never ever used to order delivery, maybe more due to social anxiety (I hate ordering by phone–there's always a misunderstanding) than an abhorrence for convenience. But Seamless has won me over lately because it cuts down on all that messy interpersonal interacting. I was a little bummed when Palmyra went belly up, but turns out it was ok because they were replaced with another Middle Eastern restaurant with better food. Or at least more variety–there's not just falafel but Jordanian (chickpea and fava), Egyptian (fava) or Syrian (chickpea) falafel. I had the standard all-chickpea fritter in my five for $13 mezze, along with labneh shateh (spicy), muhammara, mukhalal (pickled vegetables with a whole preserved lemon tossed in) and mousa'a, a steaming hot stewy eggplant dish not pictured. The pizzas, a.k.a. manakeesh are only $6. The lahmeh bi ajin was topped with ground beef, onions, pine nuts, and was a little salty. I'm curious about the one with blue cheese, dates, honey and walnuts.

Paprika selection

Paprika Despite its existence on St. Marks for 12 years, I don't recall ever noticing this Italian restaurant. There are just too many Italian restaurants in NYC, I'm afraid. That's why owner and chef, Egidio Donagrandi, has gone back to his roots and revamped much of the menu to reflect the cuisine of Valtellina, a Northern Italian region bordering Switzerland. It's also why I was attending a preview dinner. Gone is most of the red sauce (there are still meatballs–lamb, by the way) and a different type of hearty food has taken its place. Buckwheat plays a role the tagliatelle and the lasagna with leeks and fonduta (pictured), Northern Italian cheeses like new-to-me, Bitto, enhance the polenta, also given a little heft with buckwheat, pickled vegetables frequently show up as with the oyster mushrooms atop the bresaola. Also shown here is black kale with pickled onion and almonds, a dandelion salad with pickled radishes and creamy crescenza cheese, and beef crudo with beets and chicory. (Obviously, there are substantial mains, too, but the light waned and I didn't have my real camera on hand to adequately capture them.) Maybe my end-of-2011 prediction that Alpine cuisine would be a break out, will prove true. What happened with Harold Dieterle's The Marrow, anyway?

Frankies 457 Now that Pok Pok exists, waiting an hour for a table at Frankies seems like nothing. Technically, I'd already eaten enough snacks earlier to constitute a meal so post 10pm dinner was fine. But to counteract the already-eaten food, I went healthy and ordered a dandelion greens salad with octopus instead of pasta (well, I also shared a charcuterie plate). It was a bit too healthy, like giant bowl of tart, nicely dressed weeds accented by charred octopus tendrils. I would recommend sharing this unless you're the type who can regularly eat a whole forest of kale in one sitting.

Brick house cocktail listBrick House Tavern + Tap I've mentioned this suburban breastaurant (which seems to be decreasingly breastaurant-y) before. I only want to mention that a short cocktail list with a Manhattan twist and a drink using Firefly sweet tea vodka seems to be in at these corporate-type establishments (Is there a company or consultant who designs lists for restaurants? I feel like I should know.) Brick House has a Woodford Reserve Peach Manhattan (which I ordered) and a Carolina Spiked Tea (which I would never order because I hate sweet tea). Though I can't find any cocktail lists on their websites, both Republic Gastropub and Bricktown Brewery (no relation to Brick House) Brewery in Oklahoma City also had prominently featured a sweet tea cocktail and a fruity Manhattan.

Captain James Crabhouse

I don't (generally) love being a killjoy. In theory, the idea of an outdoor crab shack in Red Hook sounds pretty cool, like a Clemente's but walkable. I like the neighborhood because no matter how much it's touted as the next big thing, it never really happens, and with the exception of The Good Fork, crowds are never a problem (do not tell me Pok Pok is in Red Hook).

That's why as soon as I heard about shuttle buses from the Carroll Street station to Brooklyn Crab, my excitement deflated a little. Just a few weekends ago, there was a party bus blocking the street outside of Sunny's Saturday night (and this appeared to be separate from Bon Appetit's Grub Crawl on the same day, judging from the daylight in their pics). It's a bit much.  And I really, really wanted to eat crabs outdoors near the water.

Captain james duo

So, down to Baltimore it was (the Eastern Shore is preferable but on such short notice, there wasn't a single hotel room left) where crabs aren't cheap as one might think, but you're treated to some serious specimens and you'll genuinely get full, something that doesn't happen with the little crabs they serve at Brooklyn restaurant, Clemente's included. I didn't understand this before I experienced blue crabs in their element. For instance, if Brooklyn Crab is only charging $37 for a dozen those are going to be maybe mediums by Maryland standards and the amount of work it might take to extract any meat isn't worth it. I'm not saying the experience, enhanced by a few pitchers of beer, won't be enjoyable, but you won't eat much. You know you're having the real thing when you're offered a choice of medium, large, extra large or jumbos.

Mr. Bill's Terrace Inn is a serious crab restaurant in Baltimore. So serious that it's in a windowless building on the outskirts of town. Captain James is more picturesque, meaning more touristy, and that you can sit outside with your drinks and listen to Jimmy Buffet and The Eagles–or the Beach Boys, but only "Kokomo." There'll be a wait at either, but a more considerable one at Bill's.

Captain james crab

At Captain James, the Old Bay-encrusted jumbos (which were more like extra larges at Bill's) were $89 a dozen (like I said, not cheap) but you're paying for the amount and ease of extracting intact, substantial chunks of meat.  Some people ask for vinegar, others had squeeze bottles of Parkay. The white flaky flesh was sweet enough on its own, though.

Captain james hushpuppies

The only accompaniment we needed were hush puppies straight from the fryer. Still a little tender in the middle, these crispy dough balls were better than any I had in North Carolina where they were the bbq side of choice.

I think by Baltimore standards, this particular evening at Captain James would be what folks like to call a shitshow. But desensitized by Brooklyn shenanigans, I didn't think twice about waiting in line for 20 minutes or ten minutes passing before our harried waitress took our order (the pitcher of beer was brought out immediately so who cares?) until she apologized for how slammed they were. It was nothing.

Despite all the caveats of NYC crab eating, I 'm still curious about Brooklyn Crab, though maybe only on a non-shuttle bus weeknight, and not for the crab. The brutal Googa Mooga Yelp reviews from opening weekend only made the four-hour drive to Baltimore seem more reasonable.

Captain James Crabhouse * 2127 Boston St., Baltimore, MD


I knew Lexington Market is on the sketchy side (after being robbed in Canada–yes, Canada!–over a decade ago, I now pay heed to online naysayers even if I suspect they're exaggerating the level of danger and I feel like a know-it-all New Yorker). And I also knew that every time I've been to Baltimore I've missed the well-known crab cake at Faidley's (or is it just Faidley–it's spelled both ways all over the place) within the Lexington Market because I never get into town before Saturday closing time (5pm) and it's not open Sundays (a surprising number of businesses in this town aren't).

Faidley's crab cake

So, I got my crab cake this time, right alongside all the other camera-toting tourists standing up against the tall chairless tables exclusive to the restaurant. Jumbo lump, a little mayonnaise and mustard for binding, some cracker crumbs too, I imagine (though not much) and a packet of Saltines. Purist. I like a few shakes vinegary Tabasco to cut the richness. A can of Natty Boh rounds out the experience.

* * *

A trip to the public restroom, though, can add a whole other layer to the experience. Now, I knew better than to use the bathroom at Lexington Market, but after being in the car for hours, this was our first pitstop; I really had to go, busted or not. I imagined it would be like a Port Authority bathroom might be in the '70s but with fewer runaways, and I got my wish and then some.

The No Bathing, No Shaving, and many other Nos sign, immediately tipped me off to the scene. I saw boobs, I saw bellies. There were a lot of flesh-exposing bathing suits, despite our not being near a beach. A woman asleep in a wheelchair was apparently waiting for another woman in a wheelchair to vacate the handicapped stall. Hair was inexplicably wet. The line, which I was only third in, wouldn't budge until angry women of all ages began spilling out into the hall. The nearest stall contained a passed out woman. A polite pregnant woman had everyone in the tight quarters yelling at the passer-outer and pounding the door on her behalf (I'm equal opportunity and wondered why no one was mad at the woman in the handicapped stall who'd been taking up space just as long). Security was brought in. I had flashbacks to the women's prison-esque Lucille Roberts, the first gym I ever joined, on the Ridgewood-Bushwick border where ladies with neck tattoos would threaten anyone taking too long in the bathroom, "You'd better not be changing in there because you ain't got nothing I've haven't seen before!" To bring this back to food, McDonald's meals were also frequently eaten in the locker room.

I peed in 30 seconds and hightailed it out so fast (no, I did not wash my hands) that my skirt got caught up in the back of my underwear, and was told so by two women as I was about to head outside into the world. And I wasn't even remotely embarrassed.

But the clincher was that James, who was waiting outside the bathroom, had been approached by some of the angry mob. "You're with a white girl?" they asked. "She needs to get her ass out of that bathroom." I love that he was racially profiled, whether or not he seemed like someone who'd be with a middle-aged junkie or not. But more disconcertingly, he believed that I was the trouble-maker in the bathroom. As if that's my typical M.O. when just trying to get a crab cake in another city.

Faidley's raw bar

So, good crab cake, meatier than most, but not necessarily worth the trouble in a city where crab cakes aren't exactly hard to come by. I'll stick with Duda's where we went immediately afterward and got another one because day trips are for crustacean-filled gluttony.

Faidley's * 203 N. Paca St.,  Baltimore, MD

North End Grill

If anything, North End Grill initially appealed because along with Blue Smoke and Shake Shack, the trio fulfills my perverse fascination with restaurants in generic condo and office complexes that could be in any city (see Mable's Smokehouse).

Of course Danny Meyer and Floyd Cardoz's newest venture also appealed because it's obviously the most ambitious of the three Battery Park City restaurants. Despite the moderately oddball location, I would consider this a destination not so much a casual after work stop. At least for me, entrees over $30 signal a place that's not for every night eating. That clam pie and a cocktail in the bar? Sure.

North end grill scotch bonnet

Scotch, perhaps a grab at the business crowd, is the featured spirit. Instead of focusing on little drams, I chose it in a cocktail, The Scotch Bonnet, just barely sweet and floral with lavender honey and freshened with Lillet.

North end grill cod throats meuniére

The floured and crisped cod throats were a must since my only familiarity with this meaty cut is in their Basque guise as kokotxas, popularly used in pil-pil dishes, thick with garlic and olive oil. Meunière-style here, the brown butter was greened-up, visually and taste-wise with chervil and just a few rounds of jalapeño.

North end grill grilled lamb heart with green chickpeas & mint vinaigrette

It's hard to say if the focus is seafood (it kind of is) because then something like grilled lamb hearts appears on the menu and is hard to ignore. The organ, cooked rare, was also spring-like and verdant with fresh, i.e. green chickpeas and mint vinaigrette.

North end grill soft-shell crab with papaya, carrot & daikon salad

Many of the dishes had a murky, dirt-like quality, which sounds horrible and is probably why earthy is the more commonly used adjective.  The spice blends lent a heaviness to a main ingredient that might otherwise be light. For instance, the soft-shell crab was very delicate, and when I read papaya salad I pictured a bright, citrusy Thai style when in actuality the mustard seeds grounded the dish. The shredded carrots and daikon also further mixed up expectations since their presence often indicates Vietnamese and this was not that either.

W view

Somehow the regular Thursday night became celebratory thanks to a bottle of Weingut Heinrich Spindler Riesling and a few whiskeys at the nearby W with its not-terribly-high roof terrace that overlooks the World Trade Center construction site. The beauty of the Financial District is that you'll practically have any place to yourself after 10pm.

North End Grill * 104 North End Ave., New York, NY



Le Self

Village buffet

Le Village Buffet photo via Where is Cat?

I've not been a Francophile for decades so my cultural understanding of the country is admittedly weak. Yes, I realize they are a thin nation and we are mostly chunks, but I'm pretty sure that when people talk about a certain French aesthetic, they really mean Parisian not the entire country.

Acclimating French women to Jenny Craig is no easy sell, as Susan Dominus' article in this past Sunday's New York Times Magazine points out. In particular I was struck by Valérie Bignon, the director of corporate communications for Nestlé France's irrational vehemence against cafeteria-style dining (I didn't interpret this as all-you-can-eat) a.k.a. "Le Self."

“You know what I find totally crazy?” Bignon asked, momentarily sidetracked. “Le Self. You know this system? It’s American. You take a plate, there’s a line, you take some salad. . . .” She was referring to what we call self-serve, an option so neutral to me that Bignon might as well have been decrying the rise of the photocopy machine. “In school cafeterias, there used to be a gentleman who made the meal and a madame who served it, and everyone ate together at the table, as they do at home,” she said. “But Americans hit on this system that is fast, it’s cheap, you take what you want — and now it’s everywhere in France!” she said. “I am anti-Self. It’s bad for rapport, and it’s bad for health — it’s too individualistic.”

But in the new issue of Saveur, a woman raised in France in the '60s reminisces about summer family road trips along Route Nationale 7. Author Sylvie Bigar writes:

Other times when hunger struck, we could count on the casual roadside restaurants that fed travelers, as well as truckers who drove the route year round. I remember filling my plate from their generous buffets with as much leg of lamb or entrecote as I wanted.

So, what gives? Le Self is clearly not a modern invention, nor strictly an American export. Buffets are viewed by Parisians much as they might be by a certain class of New Yorkers, which doesn't mean they don't exist.

Also, not terribly related: I feel like a bad person because whenever an article by an American writer mentions a pivotal family trip to Paris (which happens an awful lot–I can think of two off the top of my head in magazines this month, alone) that formed their ideas about food, my brain shuts off and I start feeling twitchy. Obviously, my aversion is born out of jealousy because the idea of a European vacation is unfathomable to me despite even the seemingly middle-class Griswolds partaking in the rite of passage. I am making a vow to hold back on kneejerk character assessment just because so many writers experienced kickass family vacations involving Michelin-starred restaurants.


Can You Dunk Them In Soy Milk?

Coconut oreosAs McDonald's is the go-to for any writer talking–or more likely, posting photos–about localized fast food, Oreo is rapidly becoming the defacto snack  example (Kit Kat and its Japanese insanity is also up there, for good reason). In fact, the first time I became aware of American food being adapted abroad in the '90s, it was a discussion, who knows where,  about how Kraft had to take out the white fluff and tone down the sugar in the black biscuits for Chinese consumers.  

This week's version about Chinese marketers' endless quest for bastardizing our food comes from Reuters. A rectangular Oreo has been a hit, but a version that switched out the white filling for gum and a red bean paste flavored middle both never made it to market.

Also off the drawing table: A Ritz cracker meant to taste like fish in Sichuan chile oil. Which sounds awesome, as does the "Chicken Feet With Pickled Chili" seasoning created at the Kraft R&D lab.

Coconut Oreo picture via Eataku


Cattlemen’s Steakhouse

Cattlemen's t-bone steak

Cattlemen’s, an Oklahoma City meatery that remains much of its 1940s charm, serves a George Bush-approved T-bone.

Ronald reagan & gene autry at cattlemen's
I went for the rib-eye, instead, gnawing the medium-rare meat with Ronald Regan and Gene Autry as witnesses.

A server who spoke like a caricature of already-caricatured Kenneth on 30 Rock suggested the popular lamb fries, which I knew were breaded and fried testicles even as a city slicker.

Cattlemen's ribeye

We just stuck with the steaks, which were better than I’d expected, juicy, a little fatty, not complex or dry aged, but hardly the dull Outback Steakhouse slabs they’d been compared to on Yelp (Yelp and surprisingly active, Urbanspoon, were practically all I had to go on in this region). You would be crazy to go to Oklahoma City and not pay a visit to Cattlemen’s, for the experience alone.

Cattlemen's salad

Dinners come with a requisite heavily dressed salad (get the thick and garlicky house dressing).

Cattlemen's meal

And warm, fluffy rolls and a baked potato, little scoops of butter and sour cream on the side.

Cattlemen's bar

I didn’t even mind the half-hour Friday night wait because there is a spacious rec room-style bar upstairs where you can sit beneath a wagon wheel chandelier, watch big screen TVs and drink Shiner Bock or a big bottle of Double Deuce, brewed specially for the restaurant. No one will blink twice if you’re in a cowboy hat and boots.

Cattlemen's smoking room

There is also a self-contained dining room just for smokers, a still-thriving species.

Cattlemen's exterior

Cattlemen’s Steakhouse * 1309 S. Agnew, Oklahoma City, OK