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Posts from the ‘What’s In Store’ Category

Dreaming of a White Easter

white chocolate easter candy

C-Town (and even the block-long Rite-Aid up near me that takes the normal amount of stuff crammed into a Manhattan Rite-Aid and spaces it out ever slightly so) can be useless for gauging seasonal candy trends and shopping in general unless you’re in love with Krasdale products. If you want suburban normcore (none of this ’90s kids Applebee’s-shunning urban posturing for me) you need Target. End of story.

Savory white chocolate has yet to trickle mainstream but based on what my eyes witnessed in Elmhurst, white chocolate is very much the clear 2015 Easter trend beyond the usual cocoa butter bunnies and Lindt balls. The divisive pseudo-chocolate enveloped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup eggs and hid inside both M&M’s pastel candy shells and Cadbury’s far superior Mini Eggs, all matte white for this reboot. There may have been more examples, but I had to get out of the candy aisle before I ended up with more than I could carry home on foot.

white chocolate

Mini Eggs are one of Easter’s most perfect candies and swapping the creamy milk chocolate for a hyper-sweet buttery wax interior doesn’t improve them, I’m sad to report. The white chocolate works better in smaller doses as with the fatter than usual M&Ms that seem to contain a disproportionate amount of yellows.

The obvious omission is the Cadbury Egg. I’ve yet to see any derring-do outside of caramel and chocolate centers, and clearly, the confectioner has the means to make white chocolate. 2016 dreams.

cartwheel easter

Because I feel compelled to post similar sentiments–and sometimes the exact same photo–all over social media platforms, as one does, I received various reactions to my Target bounty from trigger warning pleas on Facebook to Cartwheel shoutouts on Instagram. Oh yeah, Cartwheel. You might not know it, but I’m a retail analyst 10:30am-6:30pm during the week so I’m well aware of Target’s app from a marketing perspective, I’ve just never bothered to use it–until tonight in the bathroom, and ugh, Cadbury white chocolate Mini Eggs are/were 25% off. I’m going to seethe all week about the 72 cents I could’ve saved.

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).

In-Store Eating: Steak and Potatoes

Which eating and drinking establishment within a store are you most looking forward to?


The Gorbals inside Urban Outfitters’ Williamsburg outpost. I’m still outraged about the liquor license denial because I wanted to drink a Dick in a Hat while shopping for an OBEY Vagabond Fedora.


Makers and Merchants, i.e. the Brooks Brothers steakhouse.


The Roof, which, er, will be on the roof of that Gowanus Whole Foods that’s been in limbo for years. Wegmans has an in-store pub called The Pub, so why not?


The Williamsburg Rough Trade cafe from Five Leaves folks.

taters tits

TNT a.k.a. Taters ‘n’ Tits in an unspecified North Carolina mall.

Photos: Urban Outfitters, Brooks Brothers, Wegmans, Made in Shoreditch, HBO

No Beaujolais Nouveau?

glade salted caramel

Pumpkin spice’s ubiquity has really taken a beating this year (white girl memes, flavor science proving it’s all spice, no pumpkin) but
there’s something much fouler afoot and I spied it at Target this weekend on the instant headache aisle otherwise known as air fresheners.

Glad is promoting a limited edition fall scents collection, which includes Salted Caramel, as if salt contributes an odor to caramel, which is really just sweet and Cracker Jacky with a chemical undertone. No matter, it’s available in five different formats: jar candle, Plugins scented oil, automatic spray, which differs from premium room spray, and scented oil candles.

The rest of the collection is rounded out by Fall Hayride, a mystery blend, Pumpkin Spice (obviously) and two other foodish scents, Orchard
Apple Cinnamon and Toasted Marshmallow, the latter which is described by an online reviewer as “Makes breathing fun!” Five stars for Toasted Marshmallow. Clearly, I know nothing about how a home should smell (or breathing).

What are the odds that Glade captures the aroma of a croissant-doughnut chimera for 2014?


Hormel, You Compleat Me

Breakfast cheesesteak

While on my monthly suburban excursion, I thought Quick Chek’s new (to me) Breakfast Cheesesteak might be the find of the journey. Turns out Sonic, just down Route 1 a bit, has a Zesty Cheesesteak Breakfast Burrito. Two’s a trend.

Partycake peeps

But that was before I found party cake-flavored
Peeps at Walmart. How does one make something taste like party cake? Not sure,
but it’s that same synthetic vanilla, butter and maybe eggy quality that
defines cake batter ice creams at places like Coldstone Creamery. The Peeps are
covered in rainbow speckles to denote a party and their marshmallow guts are
not bright white but pale yellow. Is yellow cake a party cake?


The Hormel Compleats aisle may be the saddest
section at Wegmans. This was reinforced by the row of Healthy Choice’s Lunch
taunting at eye level. I would seriously cry if my midday meal was a
small plastic tub with a small portion of pasta or white rice and a quarter cup
of goop waiting to be mixed in and microwaved (the cover as strainer is kind of
cool, I suppose?). If you wanted to stay under 300 calories couldn't you just eat a bowl of soup or something?  If anything, these packaged meals would probably benefit from
a little horse meat to liven things up a bit. I am going to order some medicore sushi off Seamless now.

Canned Cheese, Pedo-Chinese & Inoffensive Japanese


The day after I paid a visit to my favorite, non-NYC semi-supermarket, Grocery Outlet, fka Canned Food Outlet, an online walk-thru appeared on The Laughing Squid. Yet the only item I found in common was the Wis-Con nacho cheese.

Sadly, the Eugene location near my sister’s house wasn’t even half-way hideous. It was actually kind of pleasant and full of useful things. They had real Willamette Valley wine, organic snacks and hair products, Starbucks ice cream bars…and fresh meat, which they reminded you of on signs inside and out as well as over the intercom. I wasn’t in the market for fresh meat. None of the crap I remember from my younger years trolling the aisles of the Tigard location was to found. Who can top ninety-nine-cent chocolate-flavored wine, though?

Grocer outlet ground meat

There is a fondness for ground meat in tubes. Not the advertised fresh meat, I presume.

Far man sign

We had to drive to neighboring Springfield to fuel my desires for the darker side of suburbia. After reading the haunting Yelp reviews for Gateway Mall (seriously, I’ve wanted to go ever since stumbling on them in April) I knew that I not only had to see its faded glory for myself, but that I needed to eat somewhere nearby.

Far man facade

Far Man, a.k.a. Pedo-Chinese it was. I knew this was the spot the second I typed in the CAPTCHA that granted me access to the filtered review about the former owner’s underage prostitution ring.

Far man vacuum A quiet vacuum made a nice tableside sculpture. Its noise, however, might’ve been preferable to the half-man half-grizzly outbursts blasting from the saloon doors separating the dining room from the dark bar filled with more patrons than the restaurant. The voice, akin to that sound of burping out the alphabet but more menacing, appeared to be in response to something on the Discovery Channel. James gathered this intel from peeking into the murky abyss that still felt smoky despite the mandated lack of cigarettes. Normally, it wouldn’t take much to convince me to grab a cheap beer in the middle of the day but he couldn’t talk me into crossing that imaginary line between sane and not-so-much. The staff seemed jumpy and cowed. I wasn’t taking my chances.

Far man lunch
Instead, I solaced myself with the cheap and fried. Thursday’s $4.25 special was (and is every week) sweet and sour pork and a shrimp eggroll that’s really filled with celery mush. Minus the sunshine yellow egg drop soup included with most combos, the food is crunchy, greasy, beige broken up by neon red rivers of corn starch thickened sauce and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. You’ll never finish the whole plate, and you probably shouldn’t. Our waiter brought over styrofoam takeout containers mid-way through the meal, umprompted. American Chinese at its finest.

Cabela's gateway mall

The best part of the Gateway Mall (which houses two movie theaters—one with $1.50 tickets!) was not the newish Cabela’s that I was not allowed to go into because some coworker of my sister’s also works there and she didn’t want to see him (there is a lot of this avoiding people thing in Eugene. My issue was more with the strangers saying hi on the streets and involving you in conversations about time travel unbidden). It was the Ross. It’s always the Ross. My sister and I both found the exact same $6.99 polyester rainbow swirl wrap dress in each of our sizes that we thought would be amazing to wear to a rare family bbq the following night. A trip to the dressing room quelled that fantasy, however. It is no bargain if you look like a crazy lady in a bathrobe.

Hometown buffet
I almost wish we had held out for Hometown Buffet. I haven't eaten at one since 2001 in Reading, PA. Once per decade is probably a good guideline.

Nascar sports pub

I’m not sure if it’s more socially acceptable to grab a drink at Far Man or the mall’s Nascar bar in the middle of the afternoon.

Gateway mall empty stores

There are a lot of empty storefronts.

Tree of life

There are also havens for Christians.

Crafter's alley
And crafters.

Dragon vine

As per the comment left by a DragonVine employee on my original speculative Gateway Mall post, "Steampunk is only a wee fraction of what we have."

Epris? Never heard of it. Same for Bello and maurices, two other mystery retailers. This felt very Chinese (not Far Man Chinese). The malls I encountered in Shanghai and Beijing looked so American but so many store names were completely new to me. My favorite was Valued Squirrel.

Having fun at gateway mall

Now that I am a year older, and maybe more maturely than prematurely gray, I may have to adopt the older women having a blast look featured on one of the boarded up shops.

Meiji 2

Meji 1

You do not have to eat sub gum chow mein or even aggressively vegetarian while in Eugene (I was scared of the ‘70s avocado and sprouts on everything legacy). After a stop for a few pints at the Ninkasi Brewery, I shared perfectly nice small servings (not calling them tapas) of Japanese-ish food at Izakaya Meji, across the street. Not only do they stay open until 1am (late night dining was problematic even in more bustling Portland) they do classic cocktails, which is not exactly an overdone trend in these parts. An Aviation for $6? It almost made up for the disappointment of the distressingly normal Grocery Outlet.


Not Quite a Three Martini Lunch


My day finally came.

Also, I accidentally discovered a way to get drunk while sitting at my desk in the office drinking no alcohol.

I knew it was only a matter of time before my favorite all-purpose grocery store, Western Beef, started carrying Greek yogurt. Their slogan “We Know the Neighborhood” has meant that their flagship on the Brooklyn-Queens border sells a variety of Central American cheeses and crema, Serbian seasoning packets, Polish seltzer and (look, no serial comma—ok, I’m the only person alive who never used them in the first place and I’m feeling insecure about it) and has an entire wall devoted to Malta, the devil’s beverage, which is essentially non-fermented beer that’s drunk like a soda pop (pronounce that like sody pop).

Now, knowing nearby neighborhood, Bushwick, apparently means that in addition to Chobani and Oikos appearing out of nowhere, there is an entire new section by the fish counter devoted to organic goods. The yogurt I had expected, but never the full jump to Annie’s and Amy’s.

I have mixed feelings. It didn’t occur to me how wrong this new mainstream love of fancy yogurt could go. Rossman Farms, the cheap produce store under the BQE, a.k.a. porn alley, has sold Fage for some time despite being a bare bones vendor. No longer. Last week my thick yogurt of choice had been replaced by Chobani. In this cramped city, stores with a dearth of shelf and fridge space really only have room for one brand of each item. And it seems that Chobani has become the leader. This monopoly is bothersome.

I’m not even passionate about yogurt. It’s just something non-offensive and filling that I can eat between the time when my lunch wears off and I go to the gym straight from work. And I like being able control the amount of sweetness and what toppings I choose to use. I don’t need all those flavors and I don’t want 0% fat. Rossman Farms was not selling plain, only the fruit on the bottom fat-free varieties. What’s wrong with 2% fat? The real treat was that mysterious 5% Fage used to (still does?) make that had fewer calories than the 2%, a trick achieved by shaving 50 grams from the serving size.

But I bought Chobani at both Western Beef and Rossman Farms because it’s better than the cheaper, watery fructose crap that poses as yogurt. Despite loving all the off brands at WB, I just can’t deal with Tropical yogurt (though I’ll eat their cheddar).

The thing is, Chobani has caused me grief in the past beyond the already present fruit and lack of fat. When I bought a case at Costco (BJ’s sells Fage, but with honey only) as a test, two containers turned out to be moldy. And there’s that little fermentation problem. Once, I encountered a fizzy specimen. It didn’t smell rotten, but clearly something wasn’t right about the bubbly, carbonated texture. I took a bite—no, not moldy, just effervescent—but I still tossed it out.

This week, I heard a pop in my lunch bag and figured it was the pineapple somehow escaping the plastic container I had put the slices in. When I took a peek later, I realized the foil top on the yogurt had burst and I had another fermented cup on my hands. What the hell? This time, though, I ate it because I had nothing else to eat and I hate wasting food. And while the sensation in my mouth was weird, the raspberry flavor hadn’t been tainted.

The curious thing was that about one-third of the way through, I started feeling unusually relaxed, my arms and legs un-tensed and I stopped paying attention to what I was working on (ok, I’m never able to pay much attention). My mood perked up. Hey, I was tipsy. My yogurt had somehow fermented into an alcoholic sludge. Is this even possible?

I guess Chobani is good for something, after all.


El Corte Inglés Menú del Día

El Corte Inglés is the Macy’s of Spain, and no great shakes, I know. But beyond the obvious culinary attractions of San Sebastián, I needed more bait to get James to take a vacation (if it were up to me, I'd stay out of NYC half the year). Having a mall and a subway (TV and internet access goes without saying) are the two unspoken requirements for cities we may visit.

In the 11-and-half-years we’ve been dating (ha) Bangkok, Toronto, Montreal, Barcelona, Madrid, Shanghai, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Singapore and London have had both; the only exceptions being Macau, which was a Hong Kong addendum and Penang, which only had a bus system but made up for it with amazing food and a hotel abutting a shiny, air conditioned mall. Oaxaca had neither, and tellingly, I traveled there alone (though took a cab out to Plaza del Valle, where fast food and a strip mall lurked).

That San Sebastián supposedly had a Corte Inglés, helped matters. Except that it didn’t. The address listed online was nonexistent. I was totally up for finding one, though. Bilbao had one (and a metro and a lightrail, both of which we rode on a day trip. I don’t talk art, but Paul Pfeiffer’s The Saints was the best thing at the Guggenheim) but we’d already been to that more modern city, which brought up the question, “Why didn’t we stay here?” Pintxos, that's why.

Pamplona, the next biggest city, was only an hour by bus in a different direction. El corte inglés billboard

El Corte Inglés' familar font on a  billboard. The sure sign that we were getting closer to civilization.

El corte inglés pamplona

And then we waited in line for lunch, the only pile-up during the week.  Everyone loves a menú del día, the affordable workhorse midday prix fixe served in nearly all restaurants. They’re rarely exciting—so much so that I won’t document another from Bilbao’s Café Iruña—but usually good value. While waiting in the entryway between the cafeteria and El Corte Inglés' branded travel agency, I had plenty of time to plan my three courses.

I was totally going to get a hamburger because I hadn’t encountered one in Spain yet, plus it came with an egg, which seemed oddly Australian. I also spent an inordinate amount of time parsing that a rollito de primavera wasn’t some rolled arrangement of spring vegetables but a spring roll. Duh.

El corte inglés crema de calabacín

Soup is usually dreary to me, but I ordered it anyway hoping it would counteract the fries I would have next. Once again, I exposed my shoddy Spanish. Crema de calabacín, was not a squash like the orange pumpkiny calabaza I see at stores in NYC, but zucchini, which I guess is squash too.

El corte ingles salad fixings

If you order the ensalada mixta, which I did not, you get to make your own pepper-free dressing.

El corte inglés hamberguesa

Ugh, una hamburgeusa wasn’t a hamburger either. I was most definitely wasn't expecting a naked, well-done patty. At least I had the fries and egg to make up for the lack of a bun. And the pleasure of eating a regular person’s lunch instead of something Michelin-starred or smothered in foie gras. Actually, they did have foie gras and fries on the regular menu.

El corte inglés natillas I had far more trouble at this department store restaurant than any complicated pintxo bar. I saw a bunch of people eating chocolate cake at the end of their meals, but all I saw as dessert options were yogurt, sorbets, rice pudding and natillas. I thought natillas was something custardy, but ordered it anyway because it was the only thing I wasn’t 100% sure on so it could possibly be the chocolate cake. No, it was a cinnamony custard. Where did everyone get the chocolate cake?

El Corte Inglés * Calle Estella, 9, Pamplona, Spain

A Near-Random Selection of Spanish Groceries

On the  drive back from Etxebarri, the one-hour-from-San Sebastián source of possibly the best leisurely multi-course meal on vacation (smoked goat’s milk butter!) and the reason why we needed a rental car for the day, I insisted on stopping at the Eroski I spied in a village we’d passed through on the way.

Mountains etxebarri

Natural beauty must be tempered by commercialism. Seeing another country’s groceries is always important on my vacations. There was a Lidl, like Aldi in the US, a block from our apartment but I craved a full-blown supermarket.

Despite sounding vaguely Russian, Eroski, is a Basque word, and the name of a sprawling shopping center selling groceries, clothing, camping gear, everything, like Fred Meyer, the one-stop store I’ve missed for close to 13 years.

Eroski jamón aisle

The ham aisle is always the most impressive aspect of a Spanish grocery store. The unbelievably large rows of canned seafood (tuna, sardines, anchovies, mussels, razor clams, cockles, octopus and more) are also trademarks.

Eroski tortilla

Ready-to-warm tortillas filled a refrigerated case. This was perfect for preparing in the morning since I rarely go out for breakfast, home or abroad.

Eroski pizzas

The tortillas shared a space with pizzas. This brand not only created unusual flavors like kebab, they each include a packet of sauce to be baked in. Chimichurri? Barbacoa a.k.a. barbecue? Why not? Not a single ham and pineapple (the favorite in Oaxaca) was to be seen. Clearly, the Spanish aren’t averse to pairing fruit with meat: jamón and melon is classic and as I’ve mentioned before foie gras almost always was served with something apple-y. Maybe they just a need a nudge in the right direction.

Eroski basque birthday cakes

Happy birthday cakes in Basque.

Eroski filipinos

Um, Filipinos.

Eroski fantasinis

Apparently, they have a fondness for chips that look like ghosts. Fantasinis must be closely related to Fantasmas I saw in Madrid.

Spanish lays & ruffles

Chorizo and jamon play a prominent role in the chip department. The Ruffles truly tasted like ham while the Lay’s mostly of salt.

Eroski friends

Man’s best friend gets the English language treatment. Miao, the feline version, does not.

Spanish hello kitty snacks

Hello Kitty is everywhere, from Cheeto’s to Phoskitos snack cakes with a font that bears a striking resemblance to Snickers.

Pantera rosa duo

Another cat, The Pink Panther, lends his name to waxy, strawberry-iced Twinkie-like treats.

Eroski klak

Klak is a blatant Kit Kat clone.

So Cultured

03142011-yogurt-by-the-numbers-pg8 For the past few years, I’ve checked the dairy case at Western Beef on every shopping visit waiting for the miraculous day when Greek yogurt appears next to the Yoplait and Tropical (because I'm rich, you know). Even Costco and BJ’s sell it at this point. Only the old-school New Yorky cheddar, mozzarella and pepper jack for cheese selection stores are still holding-out.

My day may be coming soon, though. The harbinger was seeing my first TV commercial for Greek yogurt, Dannon’s entry, the other night. Mainstreaming. According to a recent Ad Age article citing Mintel and SymphonyIRI data, Green yogurt is one of the fastest-growing grocery categories and this style makes up 12% of the total yogurt market.

Then again, Western Beef’s slogan is “We Know the Neighborhood” and I don’t know that the residents of the semi-industrial Ridgewood-Maspeth border are clamoring for thick, unsweetened dairy products…yet. Maybe once the ladies get a load of these ads.

In non-yogurt-related Greek miscellanea, I finally watched Dogtooth last night. Wow, kind of a more incesty, un-Shyamalan-fied The Village.