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Would You Rather? Boutique Edition

Shop at a Club Monaco inside of Noma that looks like an Urban Outfitters in Williamsburg?


Drink Rwandan coffee at the TOMS cafe opening in Nolita this week that looks like an Urban Outfitters in Williamsburg?

Whither the Food Blog?

Recently on Facebook I was asked by a friend’s acquaintance whom I haven’t seen in over a decade for names of food bloggers to invite to what sounded like a cool event. After a few minutes’ thought, though, I was stumped because food bloggers as I think of them are a dying breed.

In 2015 there are online publishers like Serious Eats, Eater, Grub Street, Tasting Table, and all of the myriad offshoots of print publications that mostly digify content like the ever-changing Bon Appétit to recent entrants like Lucky Peach. None of these are really blogs (though Grub Street is maybe the closest).

On the other extreme are the unsung home cooks and amateur restaurant critics who may or may not have the engaged followers that excite PR types. But a lot of the impulse that originally spurred this activity can now be satisfied through Instagram, Pinterest, or Yelp, splintering to social platforms. Others who may have gotten into food blogging as an outlet are now cooking for the public or putting on events. Editorial wasn’t necessarily their endgame but a way to connect.

The middle, and what I imagine this event planner was interested in, consists of people who blog about food, consistently, with a strong point of view and have some sort of readership. It’s more or less the revolving roster included on Eater’s “In the blogs” section of reviews on Wednesday (which I haven’t been included in for the last few months–what gives?) In NYC I would put Chopsticks & Marrow in this category. Immaculate Infatuation, the Infatuation, or whatever those guys are now calling themselves, I would not. Quality of prose or photography doesn’t necessarily define this genre.

Nor does a reliance on the personal, despite that always having been my preference–and the characteristic I’m mourning the loss of here.

It’s high time to bring it back.

I often hesitate to tell acquaintances or coworkers that I’m a food blogger, and usually don’t at all, because then they’ll show up here expecting a bunch of SLR shots of Santina or a breakfast sandwich roundup, neither which are out of the realm of possibility but not what drives me to keep on posting.

This is my segue into saying that if old-school food blogs are dying, then why not go full-on obsessive and nuts? Who needs more lists and service journalism in 2015? Going forward, I hope to do my part in killing blogs dead by writing more about things that only five people have interest in. That may or may not mean casual dining chains in New Jersey, bars for old women, Pizza Hut attempting to reenter Africa, and as always, delicious things in Queens.

See you soon.

Burger King Mobile Ordering, Middle East-Style

Mobile Burger King in the US means apps allowing ordering and payments.

In Beirut this concept translates to vans painted with what appears to be an extreme close-up of a grill and flames (no literal Fieri nonsense here) serving Burger King at weddings. This could be the start of a beautiful tradition.

Despite all the speculation at the time, Burger King ended up playing no role at all in the catering of the West/Kardashian union.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Bay Area and Beyond

This was not a food vacation (I’m seriously due for one of those) but that doesn’t mean I didn’t try squeezing in eating and drinking opportunities whenever possible. It was a family vacation where the biggest food-related revelation was that two of my cousins had fond memories of my mom being a good cook, which only meant their home-cooking bar had been set woefully low (sorry, mom). Lasagna, one of two special occasion dishes in my mother’s repertoire, was cited specifically. The other baked crowd-pleaser was enchiladas. I did like those enchiladas.

A different cousin I hadn’t seen since she stayed with us for a few mysterious weeks during an early ’80s summer remembered my mom making strawberry jam, which is outrageous (nearly as outrageous as her tale of my sister and I calling her sock monkey, Patricia, ugly) even though we did live a few blocks from a strawberry field. I would like to preserve my Banquet fried chicken and Steak-Umm memories, thanks.

Technically, my first meal in San Francisco was a Carl’s Jr. cheeseburger, the result of inexplicable behavior that may as well now be a tradition since I did the same thing last time I popped out of the Bart station en route to a Union Square hotel. Let’s not talk about that.

mikkeller duo

Beers were had a Mikkeller, the Danish offshoot and sort of relative of Torst, pre-and-post-Kin Khao. Most drafts are one size (8 ounces) which forces you to be more selective than at its Copenhagen and Brooklyn-based brethren where smaller pours can be ordered. Not being a Brettanomyces nerd, I didn’t necessarily want a full $14 glass of the crazy funky Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien Grand Cru 2013 even as I’ve begun warming to sour beers.

Because they don’t know how to be confrontational on the West Coast yet are still dickish, 30 minutes after a server deposited two baskets of fries on our table that we hadn’t ordered, he returned to passive-aggressively scold us for not saying anything, which consisted of him letting us know they weren’t meant for us and then remaining next to the table as if waiting for an apology. Those fries were long gone, dude.

sears fine food pecan waffleI rarely eat breakfast on vacation (the three hour time difference put me on a normal productive human schedule) so the pecan waffles at Sears Fine Food were a treat, touristy or not.

hog island trioIf you cross the Golden Gate Bridge and drive for about an hour northwest, up grassy hills and through dark Hobbit-y patches of woods and don’t hit any cyclists or throw up from all the curves, you may arrive at Hog Island Oyster Farm. Oysters, both freshly shucked and grilled (and unlike the New Orleans specialty, smoked and non-smothered in cheese and breadcrumbs) are a perfect pit stop snack eaten at first come, first serve picnic tables overlooking Tomales Bay where sunbeams can trade places with storm cloud drizzles every ten minutes. It’s worth paying $5 for the big Brickmaiden sourdough roll–you need it for soaking up all the buttery grilled oyster remains (and to settle your stomach if you’re like me and my car sick-prone relatives).

lala's creamery ice cream

While sitting in a parked car downtown Petaluma waiting for my sister’s nausea to pass, we were treated to a show by an older mom or younger grandmother on the sidewalk clutching a not-so-plush Garfield in front of Pick of the Litter, a thrift store benefiting “forgotten felines,” (the number of animal rescue operations in Sonoma County was mind-boggling). She was in the middle of a Bubba Gump shrimp spiel to her ward, a boy born in the mid-2000s, about how once upon a time Garfield merchandise was available as far as the eye could see: Garfield books, Garfield calendars, Garfield phones, Garfield pajamas, Garfield posters, Garfield mugs, Garfield piggy banks…

How do you top that? With two scoops of ice cream at Lala’s Creamery, an old-fashioned parlor that I’m pretty sure isn’t actually old. Luckily, I have old tastes in ice cream–no seasonal berries or lavender honey for me, give me the rum raisin and butter pecan. There is actually a shake on the menu called a Grandpa. Just my speed.

china chef duo

Who says print is dead? An ad in a local paper read while passing time at Lala’s contributed to a dinner decision: China Chef, which turned out to be walking distance to the home that was our end destination. It’s like typical suburban Chinese, complete with zodiac placemats and combo specials, but with gluten-free options, coconut oil substituted on request, and meats both mock and organic that convinced my sister to take a bite of my Hot, Spicy and Crispy Szechuan Beef not “beef.” The shrimp dumplings were a nice bit of evening dim sum, and crab Rangoon will never not be ordered if presented as an option.

el favorito duo

I wouldn’t feel right ordering a burrito anywhere except the Bay Area. (This prompted an LA vs. SF debate on Facebook. To me, Los Angeles is too Mexican to eat a burrito un-self-consciously where Mission burritos are part of San Francisco’s heritage.) Taqueria El Favorito in Sebastopol is just the place for cheap, carnitas-filled flour tortillas wrapped in foil. The griddling is key. And the pickled onions are great with fatty pork.

fremont diner quad

Spending time with non-food people has its ups and downs. I wouldn’t allow Ayurvedic food at my Super Bowl party to another’s irritation, but it’s fun to see someone still excited about things like deviled eggs and brunch. (I’m not sure if brunch really is scarce in Eugene, Oregon–late alcohol-fueled breakfasts seem suited for a college town–or if it’s just not on my sister’s radar.) Ugh, have we become so jaded that delicious strips of bacon and a mound of pimento cheese can’t be enjoyed on a burger because they are so overdone? (I still say nix the jelly jars.) Fremont Diner is one of those casual places with serious food that’s worth stopping by if you’re driving from Sonoma to Napa.

rockridge duo

If you happen to be staying at an airbnb in Rockridge and don’t want to drive for food or cook, Rockridge Cafe is solid and more of a diner than Fremont Diner even with Niman Ranch name-checked on the menu. That’s corned beef hash. Pizza Rustica is also fine enough for pizza, but keep in mind that no one seems to eat after 9pm in Oakland and the upstairs tiki bar is closed on Mondays.

blind cat beer & shots

It’s not all about craft brews and local wines. A day time beer and a shot is perfectly acceptable at the Blind Cat, especially after an encounter at nearby Dynamo Donut with a staffer so comically condescending I thought I was being punked. We did not walk away from that experience with any donuts (though we did get some free coffee cake remainders after I went New York on his ass).

trick dog duo

I prefer cats over dogs, but Trick Dog is having a moment and happened to be down the street. I can get on board with nouveaux boilermakers, a shot of Mandarine Napoléon plunked into a mug of Tecate, as well as cocktails containing three rums, third wave coffee, grapefruit, and fenugreek.

moss beach distillery duo

Despite passing through Pacifica, I didn’t get to stop at the world’s nicest Taco Bell in the town where I was born. However, I did get to experience a supposedly haunted café, Moss Beach Distillery, eat some clam chowder, drink a glass of Chardonnay, and possibly see three baby dolphins playing in the waves.

lark creek grill pacific snapper sandwich

And similar to burritos only in the Bay Area rule, there are only a few American airports where I’d feel ok eating fish. I said goodbye with a Pacific snapper sandwich at Lark Creek Grill. Am I the only one who, price aside, actually likes eating in airports? Not fast food, but sit-down restaurants like you’re worldly or maybe on a business trip? Now that I live so close to LaGuardia, I’d consider hanging out there for fun if all the food wasn’t post-security.




Course Thirteen: A Palette Cleanser

I may have retired Palate Patrol 2014 but that doesn’t mean the abuse has abated.

In fact, it may be getting worse. If you’re of the ilk that not only writes parodies of Noma’s stint in Japan but gets paid to publish such humor in The New Yorker, impeccable grammar would seem to be a given.

From the (since corrected) imaginary East Village walk-up tasting menu:

Course Six: A shot of tequila.

To be consumed by chef, staff, and diners. Should act as a palette cleanser and a sedative and reduce grumbling from the kitchen about having agreed to make this meal in the first place.

Now on to 2015, where there are anti-bone broth bots protecting stock’s good name.

From Food Courts to Farro


Bloomberg recently published a sort of fun set of infographics (if you consider infographics fun and are tired of saying the word chart) called “The Average American Mall Explained in Six Charts.

One of the six illustrates where chain restaurants with regional names actually dominate geographically. 1. Who calls A&W A&W All American Fast Food? 2. Clearly, Dallas BBQ is missing.

A second set of charts shows that in the food court world Taco John’s has the whitest customers (85%) while Great Khan’s has the largest concentration of Hispanic diners (49%). And completing this cycle of ethnic profiling, Asians don’t really eat much at the mall but love the Nordstrom cafe more than most.

* * *

Despite dominance in New England, I almost went to Uno for Valentine’s Day but weather trumped novelty not common sense. While planning the excursion, I discovered that the restaurant known for deep dish pies now serves farro salads and “artisan” crust pizzas topped with “house-made marinara.”

The mall food court may be dying, but casual dining chains won’t become relics without a fight. This week alone Bennigan’s declared a comeback, Red Lobster ditched off-brand pork chops for seafood tacos and “trend-forward” brown butter, Carl’s Jr.’s made craft beer-battered fish for Lent, and Pizza Hut (UK) is serving alcoholic milkshakes in Mason jars. And no, bacon-wrapped pizza doesn’t count.

Shovel Time: Tex Wasabi’s

twoshovelIs it wrong that when the idea of visiting cousins in and around Santa Rosa with my sister came up, my first thought was Guy Fieri? Santa Rosa is where he got his start, if you didn’t know, and the site of two classic Fieri restaurants: Johnny Garlic’s (1996) and Tex Wasabi’s (2003). A familial indifference to pasta led to choosing the latter.

In fact, we purposely picked a hotel (The Courtyard by Marriott Courtyard, not the fancier Hyatt Vineyard Creek across the street) walking distance from the town’s main drag so we could incorporate Russian River Brewing’s all-day Sunday happy hour into this itinerary (that kicked off with a Fieri-esque 1,000-plus-calorie cinnamon roll french toast at Shari’s). In NYC, drinking and driving has never been a consideration (or even in the ’90s when I was a West Coaster and owned a car) so sibling influence can be a smart thing.

russian rivery brewing salvation

So, after just one high alcohol ale at the brewery (too mobbed), another two less distinctive pints at Third Street Aleworks at down the street, and an inexplicable pomegranate martini at an Irish pub, I was in the proper Tex Wasabi’s mindset by the time our 8pm reservation rolled around.

The action appeared to be at the bar where a gong intermittently signaled that someone had ordered a “bowla,” a 64-ounce beverage such as a Herry Berry or County Fair, not to be confused with the Kraft Kocktails. I sampled neither. To ensure the optimal mix of poorly chosen alcohol, and really make the most of this no driving in the suburbs thing, we opted for a bottle of inexpensive Malbec. I would be lying if I said I fully remembered the food.

tex wasabi's rockin' lava shrimp

There was Rockin’ Lava Shrimp, which was not wildly unlike Bonefish Grill’s (my favorite chain) signature Bang Bang Shrimp, battered, fried shrimp, coated in a spicy sauce, but with a little more flair. I will concede that the golden wheels of lotus root were a nice touch.

tex wasabi's house salad

The house salad gets Wasabi’d through the addition of edamame, fried wonton strips and a wasabi (duh) vinaigrette. There was no counterbalancing the beers and cinnamon roll french toast, but one can try.

tex wasabi's sushi duo

Of course there was sushi. Sadly, no “gringo sushi,” or anything from the Tex perspective i.e. items containing barbecued meats, were sampled. The Tootsie Roll, left, is more or less a tempura’d roll with bagel fillings (smoked salmon, cream cheese, green onion) glazed with a sweet unagi sauce. I have absolutely no idea what’s on the right but I’m pretty sure it was also fried in some capacity.

tex wasabi's mud pie

A mud pie, Oreos on the bottom, Cocoa Puffs on the top, just made sense as a meal-ender, despite nothing Tex nor Wasabi about it. When was the last time you had rocky road ice cream? Actually, the more fitting question might be whither tin roof sundae?

Nothing eaten was terribly offensive, which seems about right for a city whose claim to fame is a Charles M. Shulz museum.  Santa Rosa is not Times Square; no tourists were tricked, no New Yorkers insulted. I only had myself–and a willing family member–to blame.

Tex Wasabi’s * 515 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, CA

Shovel Time: Hey, Ladies

BBQ aside, this may be the what ultimately pushes me to visit Kansas City.

Chez Panisse Cafe

twoshovelI find it hard to decide what to say about Chez Panisse–and I’m just talking about the cafe–because so much has already been said. What seemed radical in the ’70s is now just a matter of course. Do I care about metaphoric figs on a plate, this impeccable sourcing presented simply? I’ll just say a little.

Ultimately, I said yes to my sister’s suggestion for our one nicer dinner in the Bay Area, despite her hesitation that I might find it “too earthy” because Chez Panisse is indisputably an icon, and one that I’ve always avoided on past visits. My half-hearted bid for State Bird Provisions didn’t make sense with a non-meat-eater and the email response I received wasn’t exactly positive: “I think the name State Bird Provisions is unappetizing and I will not cry if we do not get to eat there. I picture eating dodo eggs or something.” Well, then.

chez panisse cafe picpoul de pinet, chateau petit roubie 2013

Is everyone drinking Picpoul de Pinet all of a sudden? It certainly seems like it. I wanted something white and crisp and this was the very reasonably priced suggestion. Yes, the bread, crusty and springy, was awesome.

chez panisse cafe rocket salad with bellwether farm sheep's milk ricotta, roasted beets, mint

The arugula, or rather, rocket, with roasted beets, mint and Bellwether Farm sheep’s milk ricotta was straightforward, good, and probably the biggest concentration of vegetables I ate all week.

chez panisse cafe riverdog farm chicken leg al mattone with fried onoin rings, glazed carrots, spinach, black olive sauce

Ok, nowhere else would I order the roast chicken, province of unadventurous eaters everywhere. You already know the chicken as raw material (Riverdog Farm, for the brand obsessed) is going to be good, then al mattone, i.e. cooked under a brick, and served with onion rings, this dish will be paean to lush crispness. The spinach and carrots added a fresh backbone and the black olive sauce added an unexpected saline dimension that I might even describe as earthy.

chez panisse cafe red wine bosc pear upside-down cake with creme fraiche

Wine-poached Bosc pears in an upside down cake with crème fraîche, a true dessert. Since this was eaten nearly four months ago, I checked the current menu to peek at winter desserts and am not sure that I’m on board with a bowl of dates and tangerines–even if the most amazing citrus and dried fruit ever compiled in one vessel.

I don’t usually talk about service unless something odd happens and in this case that would be bringing the check before asking for it. Despite the included service charge, that ain’t European service. It was late enough, roughly 10:30pm, that no one was waiting for our table, but not so late that we were stragglers in need of goosing. Plenty of diners arrived after we did and remained as we left.

Chez Panisse Cafe * 1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA

Soup’s On: Plant Love House’s Keaw Teaw Num Tok

plant love house num tok

Keaw teaw num tok (not to be confused with the beef salad also called num/nam tok) is probably what all the non-Thai interlopers order (or not?) thanks to the recent glowing Hungry City write up that mentions it in the opening paragraph. It’s as good a place to start as any on the tightly edited menu, heavy on the noodle soups.

I don’t want to disparage the thenthuk from my last missive in this series, but num tok is its radical opposite: perfectly portioned so you don’t get stuffed and seasoned boldly so you don’t grow bored. Thin rice noodles, roughly five chopstick-pulls-worth, are more of an accent along with a handful of bean sprouts and still snappy Chinese broccoli. This $4.95 serving can be upsized for an additional $3, if you’d like.

The peppery broth, lightly perfumed with cinnamon and star anise is, yes, mixed with pork blood which isn’t remotely scary and lends none of that livery quality more noticeable in other blood-based edibles like morcilla or dinuguan. Pork is also featured in thin strips and a single pork ball.

I’m not sure if this was the medium I was recommended with the suggestion of doctoring using chile powder from the caddy if not to my standards or the spicier version I insisted I could handle. Either way, it was just hot enough, no enhancements needed. When my eyes started tearing up at one point I was glad I was on a stool facing the window so I could save face.

Being a cafe, and a cute, inviting one at that, desserts are also a selling point. Maybe next time. The pandan water, which was slightly sweet, overtly green and filled with ice cube globes I initially mistook for lychees (and nothing like the same-named beverage at Pok Pok) was a sufficient enough foil for the mouth-tingling soup.

Plant Love House * 86-08 Whitney Ave., Elmhurst, NY