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1 Knickerbocker

twoshovelR.I.P. That was fast. (6/17/14)

It can be hard to gauge a restaurant this fresh, especially during the lull between Christmas and the new year. At least in this East Williamsburg deadzone that everyone calls Bushwick where it appears that 80% of the neighborhood has returned from whence they came for the holidays. Only two blocks from the Morgan Ave. L and the streets are dead and dark at 7pm, making the area seem more desolate than is actually the case (grousers who would like to cling to the area as gritty and undiscovered should take note).

1 Knickerbocker hits all of the stylistic notes that one has come to expect from a gastropub and that are still in vogue on the cusp of 2014: tin ceilings, house-made bitters, boutique vermouths, pickles, offal. Oh, and a scotch egg, which I’d like to deem a local prerequisite even though The Rookery is the only other example I can think of (shocked at Dear Bushwick’s omission).

One thing that separates 1 Knickerbocker from its ilk in other neighborhoods is the size. The place is enormous and a perfect antidote for those averse to squeezing between two inches of table space. Booth for six? No problem. And on this particular evening, a luxury for two. (For the record, The Randolph Brooklyn also ranks highly for booth-lovers.)

1 knickerbocker manhattan

You can start with a nice Manhattan riff. With rye and an absinthe rinse, the drink is a little Sazerac-y. Birch bitters up the herbal quotient.

1 knickerbocker fried pig ears

Admittedly, it was the fried pig ears that drew me in. This version plays up the crunch more than the chew (I don’t mind a bit more gooeyness) and gets its lusciousness from mayonnaise flavored with pickled peppers. Fried curry leaves were a distinctive touch. Where curry powder tastes like fake Indian food, if you’ve ever smelled or nibbled curry leaves–maybe without even knowing it–the flavor is recognizably Indian.

1 knickerbocker scotch egg

There is synergy with the scotch egg, which also relies on a flavored mayonnaise–black garlic, in this case–and a pickled hard-boiled egg fried in a pakora-like coating, so one or the other would probably suffice.  Thankfully, the sausage is chicken instead of the usual pork, so overall this isn’t as heavy as it looks.

1 knickerbocker sprouted chickpea salad

Shredded brussels sprouts and chickpeas with a peppery yogurt dressing.

1 knickerbocker farmer's plate

Ok, more pickles and eggs. The farmer’s plate did have a hearty selection of smoked meats, and substantial cheeses, though clearly, I was remiss in ordering any warm entrees like the roast elk or pork cheeks, mostly because I was snacking and drinking. Despite saying gastropub, the mains have touches like caraway, spaetzle, juniper and dill that are less London and more Berlin bistro.

1 Knickerbocker * 1 Knickerbocker Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Christmas Dinner: Middle Eastern-ish, Malt Liquored, Mall 205s

christmas dinner gram

In a near Christmas miracle, I managed to squeeze in three dishes after my airbnb’ers vacated and my dinner guests showed up five hours later (far less time than it sounds like on the surface).

stuffed salamon

Cinnamony salmon stuffed with chunky garlic, walnuts, chiles and herbs could’ve stood alone, but the warm tahini sauce with more spice and garlic pulled everything together. I’m still not sure how kitchen string is any different from regular string.

christmas kibbeh

I made a modified version of this kibbeh without the rose petals and using a more equal ratio of bulgur to lamb. Increased meat might have actually been better for less stiffness, but it was a solid first try.

farro salad

I was already leaning toward farro in a more Middle Eastern style to match the other dishes when the Charlie Bird recipe surfaced. There is much to be said for salting the hell out of these grains while cooking, plus the apple cider simmer didn’t hurt either. With all the parmesan, pistachios and generous amount (am I the only one who can’t stand the forced breeziness of “glug”?) of olive oil even after cutting back a few tablespoons, this was a rich vegetarian salad. I’ve been completely indifferent to both Charlie Bird and Estela, two of 2013’s darlings. If this stellar salad is any indication, I need to lighten up and get out more.


It all paired well with Cran-brrr-ita on ice. Stronger and less gross than expected. You can’t tell from the ads that these aren’t beer cans, but V8 juice-sized. That’s probably all the malt liquor one needs.

tourtiere empanadas

I don’t bake so I was appreciative of the tourtière empanadas with a sour cherry cranberry sauce.


As well as this hybrid–prefab chocolate chip cookie dough wrapped around a mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and baked–that I’m shocked to have never knowingly encountered in my entire life. The too-sweet sweet encapsulated my life so well that we came up with potential names based on Portland neighborhoods, streets and landmarks. Would you like to try a nice Clackamas, Johnson Creek (pronounced crick), Mall 205? How about a Foster, Halsey or Lovejoy?

Me, Elsewhere


If you like cheap little sandwiches and cola mixed with red wine, 100 Montaditos, the Spanish chain that recently opened in the West Village might be for you. Read more on Serious Eats.

Not related to food, but while self-promoting it’s worth mentioning that I was also quoted this week in The New York Times about Christmas shipping fiascos and in Reuters about Reddit experimenting with ecommerce.

Six Cuisines in Five Hours: An Old Dubai Crash Course

Four hours,  forty-nine minutes and thirteen seconds spent sampling food from all ends of the Middle East does not an expert make, but it’s a pretty good crash course, nonetheless. Beyond the obvious Levantine favorites like hummus, tabouleh, shawarma, and a few long ago forays into Atlantic Avenue’s Yemeni restaurants, I’m stunted when it comes to regional specialties.

Dubai is funny in that there are still perfectly accessible vestiges of the pre-glitz era, entire neighborhoods even. Just cross the creek into Deira and you’re in the Queens of the Emirate. Any eating that required being outside for more than three minutes was nixed on my previous Ramadan-hindered visit, which meant no strolling and no chowhoundy missions. Plus, who has an appetite when it’s 112 degrees? (Boo to Celsius. Tell me it’s 20 degrees or 40 degrees and I’ll comprehend nothing.) Even during the winter there aren’t many pedestrians minus the occasional sun-burnt Brit. Lest you think I exaggerate, the bus stops–many sponsored by Tim Hortons–are air conditioned. I’ve yet to master exposure on photos in the dark with bright blown out signs, so evidence deleted.

Arva, a food blogger who grew up in Dubai and still lives in Deira, started a food tour business called Frying Pan Adventures this year, and it’s become popular for a reason. While I’ve always shied away from guided group activities while traveling (and in life, generally) it’s very useful in a city where it’s easier to read up on ventures by ’90s chefs like Gary Rhodes or find the latest American import than where to get the best kunafa or find lesser known items like Iranian sangak.

Read more

You Won’t Believe the 11 Things That Only Olive Garden-Lovers Will Understand

It was disappointing to see that BuzzFeed Business covered the possible Darden splitting of Red Lobster and Olive Garden without a single animated gif or numbered list. The summary of a Barrington Capital presentation, titled simply “What Went Wrong For Olive Garden And Red Lobster,” pretty much reproduced screenshots.

red lobster escalator

What I can’t understand is how there is not a single Olive Garden in the UAE (bear with me, I’m going to be talking about Dubai until I get it out of my system) while Red Lobster is rampant. Pasta? Cheese? Breadsticks? Everyone except the gluten-avoidant can eat it.

eataly dubai mall

It’s not as if locals eschew Italian food. The Dubai Mall houses a newly opened Eataly that sells no wine and has some pretty lame salumi. If you don’t like bresaola, you’re out of luck.

chicken mortadella mexican la fontaine

Mortadella is also not what it seems.

texas roadhouse dubai

Also, Texas Roadhouse serves veal ribs, which doesn’t seem right. There appears to be an interest in American-style barbecue, despite the baby back conundrum. Chili’s uses beef with the bastardized tagline, “I want my BBQ ribs.”


The oddity is Claw BBQ, a relatively new homegrown pork-licensed restaurant that appears to sell pulled pork, Kansas-style ribs and is hyper-conscientious about keeping the pork confined.

cafe habana dubai

Claw also just got a liquor license. Sadly, too late for me. I had a pretty bad over-priced Hemingway Daquiri at the same shopping complex’s Cafe Habana, the NYC chainlet inspired by a Mexico City Cafe. Now in Dubai (obviously).

Rashed Ali Cafeteria

threeshovelFor a country where drunkeness–public or otherwise–is seriously frowned on, the United Arab Emirates certainly produces one of the most mind-bending late night snacks I’ve ever encountered. It’s hard to imagine a brain on mocktails coming up with something so ingenious.

Rashed Ali Cafeteria is in a strip mall in Al Ain, the second-largest city in Abu Dhabi, which didn’t seem all that large. It’s open 24 hours.  At 2am on a holiday weekend Saturday, there were still cars pulling up and doing the classic honk-and-order. Drivers in the UAE turn any business (including liquor stores where leaving your tinted windowed SUV could draw undue attention) into a car hop with a few short beeps.

rashed ali cafeteria

The order: four San Franciscos, 5 dirham apiece or roughly $1.35. I have no idea if that’s the official name–or the price– because I didn’t see a menu and my driver who I’d met the day before, an expat sister of a Brooklyn friend, speculated that was the “white girl price” because it had been cheaper before. (There was also paranoia that the server was being rude and wouldn’t give us change from the 20 dirham note because he suspected we had been drinking.)

rashed ali san fransico

Four originally sounded excessive but these sandwiches that a New Yorker would call gyros are petite. What they consist of I can only guess. Presumably, the main ingredient is hot chicken, orange-ish, hinting at tandoori spices. The bread isn’t pita or khameer, an Emirati pita–there is a whole canon of Arabic breads I’d never encountered before–but chewy, pliable and buttery like a roti or what they would call paratha (which I kept hearing as “burrata” because P’s are pronounced like B’s). I’m pretty sure it’s a paratha.

so much liquid cheese

What sealed it for me was the processed cheese (not burrata).  Numerous  brands–Borden,  Kraft, and something called Puck–vie for shelf space (sometimes it’s refrigerated, sometimes not) for their plastic squeezable containers and small glass jars. Called spreadable cream cheese, it is not that. The taste and consistency is more akin to white Cheez Whiz, obviously an angelic version.

rashed ali san fransico bitten

And it is the gooey, salty schmear that elevates the San Francisco to greatness. The heavy layer of un-crushed wavy potato chips doesn’t hurt either. I ate two, one on the car, one back in the apartment, conked out, and didn’t wake up until the next afternoon.

Rashed Ali Cafeteria * Slemi, Al Ain, United Arab Emirates

Photos, Finished

If photos are your thing, here is my Dubai Flickr set that’s a million times more full of stuff than what I posted to Instagram. I ate some real food from all corners of the Middle East. I also ate at California Pizza Kitchen and Shake Shack. I  tweeted a lot (and lost a few followers–bye, self-serious food bros). Sorry, I can’t stop and I won’t stop with the international IHOPs and Cheesecake Factories. 2014 is going to be the least service-y year yet. Guaranteed.

Pack(age) Rat: Mr. Krisps Corn Tortillas

mr. krisps corn tortillas

The United Arab Emirates do not have an innovative chip, and yes I mean that in the American sense, culture on par with , say, Thailand (seaweed, soft-shell crab, and blueberry and hazelnut Pringles) or Russia (caviar and mushroom Lay’s). The flavors are fairly tame with ketchup, a little nod to Canada, being the most oddball.

The country, does, however, have a homegrown brand called Mr. Krisps, most notable for mashing up corn tortillas and pizza flavors with a wild west flair. At first glance, one might think the mysterious broad-shouldered gent on the package is a sheriff because of the star on his vest, but then there’s that sombrero, and cheese grater? Parmesan, presumably in hand.

Mr. Krisps, himself, is a confusing colonial American corn-bodied mascot.

The two combined proved irresistible. I can’t speak to the actual contents of the packet. The chips were pulverized to a coarse grit in my suitcase.

Dishy: Covert Khao Soi

qi flickr two

It’s inevitable. No matter how much amazing local (and not so local–I broke down and tried pulpo a la gallego one evening) food I may eat while abroad, when I return to NYC the first thing I want is Mexican or Thai (assuming I didn’t go to Mexico or Thailand, obviously) and preferably delivered to my door. (I did actually go as far as registering for, the Seamless of the UAE, and attempted to place an order for a mixed grill and fatayer but it kept rejecting my credit card.)

Qi is my neighborhood (home and work) standby for better-than-you’d-think Thai. It’s usually crispy pork and basil and a beef tendon if it’s dinner or duck salad if it’s lunchtime. Maybe what they say about travel is true and now my horizons have been broadened because I broke out of my routine and ordered something listed as salmon wild ginger curry with kanom jiin noodle a.k.a. Brooklynized khao soi (it’s not served at the Times Square branch). And it was good.

qi flickr one

The lip-tingling coconut milk broth, seven on a scale of  one-to-ten, with fish balls resembling mini bocconcini comes separate from the base components–musty strips of krachai, sour, slightly sweet cabbage, bean sprouts, chopped green beans, sliced red onions, thick round rice noodles–to reduce transitory sog. I couldn’t say whether the kanom jiin (more commonly spelled jeen) were fermented over a period of days as tradition dictates. I do know that the egg yolks remained impressively wobbly while the salmon skin had lost most of its crunchiness, as would be expected as side effect of delivery. The main thing that was off was the proportion of liquid to stuff (the primary photo is half of what came in the plastic containers). It got a little soupier after a stir, though.

That’s the Brooklyn Flickr filter, by the way (I’m two-timing Instagram). Could you tell? What neighborhood in Brooklyn do you think that is?



Hot For 2014: Bread Bowls?

One can only dream.