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Eaten, Barely Blogged: Pine Nut Ricotta, Paneer, Cream Cheese

PicMonkey Collage

Avant Garden. I didn’t think I’d be eating vegan food on a Friday night (you know, totally Tuesday fare) and yet there I was with a friend sharing plates, drinking wine (from a more conventional list than expected) like I was on a pretend date. It’s all very now (non-basil-based pestos, toasts, grains, pickled produce) and very tasty (the absence of dairy doesn’t register at all). Strangely, the standout was a toast. Strange because the descriptions don’t always sell the dish. Fennel hummus, Castelvetrano olive, orange, walnut was a delicious autumnal combination, rich and almost buttery, while I was resistant to the beets, mango, avocado, black sesame, tamari, tobanjan, lime not because of the long ingredient list but because the mango and avocado read too nuevo Latino, which clearly this round stack of food wasn’t considering the double dose of fermented bean products. Stick with the more outre combos i.e. smoked macadamia, maitake, and crispy leeks rather than seemingly familiar blends like tomato, basil, and almond ricotta.

artichoke slice

In a delayed Big Mac Attack-esque move, after too many drinks at my late ’90s staple Boxcar Lounge, I found myself at 2:30am crouched in a doorway with an enormous, molten artichoke slice dripping with dairy. It wasn’t until I woke up the following afternoon with a charred, ripped-up roof of my mouth (that still hurts three days later) that I even remembered taking a photo. Good going, drunk self.

lupulo duo

Lupulo. Despite the prominent bar, I find NYC places like this tricky to dine in alone because you can eat a cobbled together light meal by spending $24 on two small plates (shrimp turnovers, creamy and fried like haute junk food and duck hearts skewered with pickled mango and shishito peppers) or outlaying the same amount on a more substantial dish to receive less variety. And then despite reasonably spaced stools and well-defined place settings, after the loud male half of a big-spending older couple has had numerous samples of beer followed by multiple full glasses on one side and a single Manhattan has been consumed by a young lady on the other, limbs start splaying, elbows thrust, and personal boundaries become encroached upon until you quietly leave still vaguely hungry. 

samudra duo

SamudraBoth a vegan and vegetarian meal within 48 hours is highly unusual. Samudra is great, though, for chaat and South Indian carbs like the super light dosas filled with spinach to be healthy and hefty uthappam I always get stuffed with paneer. The best, though, might be the vada, perfectly deep-fried chickpea flour doughnuts, crackly on the outside and fluffy in the middle, served here with mild coconut chutney and sambar.

kitchen 79 geoy hor cheese

Kitchen 79. Not enough cheese yet? Let me introduce you to geoy hor cheese a.k.a. Thai crab rangoon. With sweet chile sauce? Amazing. And that doily only helps matters.

Big Mac Attack

Food bringing one to tears, literally, has always been one of my favorite restaurant writing/travelogue tropes. By which I mean, I’m simultaneously jealous of the diner’s ability to feel feelings so strongly and kind of don’t really believe them either. 

Commenters too can post incredulous things, and for this crew it’s the cliche of having to eat a burger after a tasting menu, possibly an American affectation. (The burger, not the hunger–in a pintxos bar in San Sebastián I overheard two Scandinavian men speaking in English about having to get a hot dog after a meal somewhere I didn’t catch.) I have never encountered this problem in my life, and I’ve eaten a few multi-course extravaganzas in my day (though only one so far this year).

For Valentine’s Day the year before last, celebrated the 13th as all rational prix-fixe-avoiding couples should, I did get a Big Mac after a dinner at WD-50 as a joke to both the world and my gastrointestinal system. I wanted to live the double-excess life, if only once. It was fun yet fleeting, especially considering I was moving out my shared apartment the 15th.

I plan to casually document this anomaly when I see it, as evidenced above. Help me out if you spy it too. Together we can  try to reach some understanding with these vocal bottomless pits.

Some Foods Need Not Be Reinvented a.k.a. Keep Your Stuffed Peppers Away From Me

Because Miracle Mile came up in conversation with three friends separately in three weeks when it was still balmy (now it’s winter?), once after a dinner at Sizzler while driving past the diner used in the Anthony Edwards/Mare Winningham movie, I  became consumed by the idea that I needed to watch Miracle Mile because I never have, and as things do this quickly morphed into throwing a Miracle Mile viewing party with food from the 1988 release year. And also as things often do, I got stuck in the ideation phase and at the rate I’m going it will be a Miracle Mile-themed Thanksgiving (except now I’ve started obsessing over After Hours).

1988 proved tricky because most foods associated with the ‘80s are really more early-to-mid decade and because Oregon was a little behind the times, things I associate with the early ‘90s like sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, artichoke hearts, and pesto were already old hat in more cosmopolitan enclaves. Plus, my interest for party food purposes has been more Good Housekeeping than Gourmet

That said, I’m on board with Boboli, Boursin-stuffed chicken breasts, pasta salad, black bean soup, designer pizzas (chicken and bbq sauce on Boboli), and cilantro where it might not belong like that pizza. 

Stuffed peppers, childhood despair in the form of stewy tomato-sauced rice and ground beef? Not so much, despite this ad being from 1988. (Don’t even click on this 1983 Beefaroni abomination unless you want to end up in tears.) And now I’m being haunted by those nightshade-rich nostalgia vessels.

I recently attended a screening of Over the Edge (1979) another film crying out for a viewing party, at Nitehawk. In one of the earliest scenes this sweet bit of dialogue occurs:

00:03:25 She’s too stoned to talk to, man. You can’t talk to that girl.

00:03:28 Hey, I’ll see you guys later.

00:03:31 Stuffed peppers tonight.

00:03:33 We don’t wanna miss that, do we, Johnny?

The actor stating interest in stuffed peppers, Tom Fergus, was in attendance, a totally Manhattan-raised kid, not a suburban hesher, who is now a good-looking dad living in Tribeca. That line came up on the Q&A. It was an ad lib. And most genius. But also nine years before 1988.

This morning in 2015 an Epicurious email announced in its subject line: “Make Stuffed Peppers the Whole Family Will Love.” 

And then I shut my laptop and decided I needed to leave the house lest I throw it across the room.

In Other Words: Chains Function Nicely as Offices

I don’t even pretend to follow sports, but the owner of the Oakland Raiders sounds kind of amazing. From the first paragraph of Mark Davis’ ESPN profile:

Most days start the same — behind the wheel of a white 1997 Dodge Caravan SE outfitted with a bubble-top Mark III conversion kit, a VHS player mounted to the roof inside and a r8hers personalized plate. Mark Davis pilots this machine from his East Bay home to the nearest P.F. Chang’s, where he sits at the left end of the bar, same spot every time, puts his white fanny pack on the counter, orders an iced tea and unfolds the day’s newspapers. Beside him on the bar, next to the papers, is his 2003 Nokia push-button phone with full texting capability. When someone calls and asks him where he is, he says, “I’m in my office,” and sends a knowing nod to the bartenders. It gets ’em every time.

Plus, he’s an evening regular at kinda-chain Morimoto Napa and always books through OpenTable.

And he had to give up Hooters’ $12.99 all-you-can-eat-wings night after a back surgery caused him to change his diet.