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Posts tagged ‘processed cheese’

Shovel Time: El Original

twoshovelOuch. El Original had better watch its back after Javelina’s evisceration. Honestly, the primary reason I visited the former and not the latter is because you can reserve a table between 6pm and 9pm on Open Table. Less importantly to the world at large, I can also walk to it from work.

A couple years ago I was trying to sell a story about how kind of once gross and embarrassing regional cuisines were emerging in NYC with pride, using examples like Tex-Mex night at Goat Town, non-kitschy Hawaiian at Lani Kai, Burnside, the Midwestern bar serving fried cheese curds, and kolaches showing up in Bed Stuy, of all places. No one was interested. I still think there was potential in this but couldn’t get anyone to care about it as is often the case with my ideas. I’m probably sitting on ten equally genius pitches right now–anyone want one?

el original queso

Goat Town and Lani Kai may be dead yet we live in a city newly flush with queso and Spam.

And so, 2015 Tex-Mex in NYC. I don’t know. Seriously, I don’t. All I know is that I love processed cheese–melted, semi-congealed, even with a skin forming on top–all of it.  I got my queso, here the classic called chile con queso, as opposed to the other available style with guacamole, black beans and picadillo dubbed queso El Original.  The salsa was mild and nothing special, though the chips were warm and I’d like to believe were freshly made.

My non-drinking dining companion a.k.a. “baby palate” who’s my go-to for  BBQ, Italian-American, Tex-Mex, pizza and burgers even though she would insist she’s more versatile, made of point of saying the food wasn’t spicy. That’s saying something. You can ask for hot sauce. It’s Valentina. I don’t think of Tex-Mex as fiery so this wasn’t a disappointment, just a caveat.

I’ve been to Texas exactly once, just last year, briefly, under emotionally strained circumstances. But I know enough that they just call it Mexican (Mex Mexican is called interior Mexican), combos are where it’s at, ground beef and yellow cheese never tasted so good, and it can all be had with a strong margarita for $20. That’s not going to happen in Manhattan. Here, the combo plates, which sound like properly gut-busting, alone will put you two dollars north of that figure.

el orginal tacos

The shredded beef, which could be called brisket, was demurely portioned in the soft tacos.  The flour tortillas are made with lard from Dickson’s Farmstand, a detail I didn’t notice until after the fact online and speaks to a sort of identity crisis. The refried beans and rice just seemed like beans and rice. Are we meant to care about the source of lard making the beans silky? Is the food pricey because it’s elevated Tex-Mex or because it’s Manhattan Tex-Mex? Can you even take Tex-Mex out of context without asking for trouble? Transplants complain about pizza or bagels outside of NYC but those are translatable.  I will give the restaurant points for being big and cheerful–if you didn’t peer outside to see it was attached to the Skyline Hotel, you could be tricked into thinking you were in nice, modern strip mall.

El Original * 735 Tenth Ave. New York, NY

Where to Eat Emirati Food in Dubai

Late last year I was in Dubai, for the second time in less than a year and a half, which seems ludicrous in retrospect. I haven’t written about everything I intended to for varying reasons, mostly un-dramatic. 2014 has been quick and full of fits and starts that have demanded focus and left little time for tying up loose ends. I didn’t leave the country once this year. I also spent my life savings on an apartment you’d never see featured in “The Hunt.”

It goes without saying that Dubai is kind of a weird place and not a place that is on anyone’s food radar like Singapore, also a substantial flight away in another heavily malled city in love with air conditioning and luxury goods.

There is a food culture, though. I’d like to say that it’s on the verge–and it is being tapped into, for sure. Just last week Andrew Zimmern was Instagramming visits to camel farms (there is no way camel meat won’t be a bizarre eat) and fish sauce makers, and Penny De Los Santos, a Saveur photographer, was posting shots of fish markets and chai vendors. I imagine the angle will be Dubai behind the glitz, a.k.a. a taste of the real Dubai.

I could drum up very little interest when pitching in earnest earlier this year. Americans don’t go to Dubai and would need someone well above my stature to convince them otherwise, and foreign publications prefer local stringers. My fascination was and is more along the lines of what is local food when there aren’t many locals? Emiratis make up just roughly 13% of the seven United Arab Emirates’ 9.2 million population.

So, what is Emirati food? It’s not hummus or pita or shawarma, though those Levantine staples in the form of Lebanese food, specifically, enjoy great popularity in the UAE and have blended into the culture. There are definitely flatbreads, rice and grilled meats and seafood. Traditionally, the cuisine isn’t elaborate, especially considering that it’s born of nomadic desert-dwellers pre-oil boom.

emirates shrimp machbous

Shrimp machbous, akin to a biryani and using loomi, a dried black lime powder, and an Arabic spice blend called baharat, served in Emirates business class (the most amazing, unexpected, free upgrade I’ve experienced in my entire life) is a traditional Emirati dish. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend anyone judging anyone’s cuisine based on airline food.

There aren’t a lot of restaurants that bill themselves exclusively as Emirati–whether because the food is considered home cooking, the small number of locals, or that it’s not assumed to be of interest to tourists or expats–though that’s starting to shift. There also doesn’t appear to be a strong urge to appeal to outsiders, and especially not women on their own.

A half week here (during Ramadan, no less) and ten days there is not enough to call myself an expert. I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a few first-hand suggestions for the curious.

al fanar harees

Al Fanar is probably the best known example and goes as far as calling itself “the first and only” Emirati restaurant in Dubai. It also recently opened a new branch at Town Centre, Jumeirah. The one I visited at Festival City is in a mall like most things and a little kitschy with an outdoor tableaux of camel statues and 1960s vehicles meant to evoke an older, simpler Dubai. It also happens to be near a Trader Vic’s and a Jamie Oliver restaurant. Harees, above, is a stiff porridge made from cracked wheat and lamb stewed into oblivion, then accented with clarified butter. I was warned against it being “like Quaker Oats,” which it isn’t really. Previously on Al Fanar.

Milas is a newer entrant (in Dubai–the original location is in the more conservative emirate to the north, Sharjah) and slicker. It’s located in a ground floor section of the Dubai Mall devoted to denim that’s called…wait for this…”The Village, Denim District at The Dubai Mall.” This was the middle of the afternoon, not prime dining time, but I was the only patron sitting “outside.” Lack of diners was a common occurrence everywhere I went. (And some establishments like Bait 1971 seemed to keep hours based on whims–I was only able to try Bait Al Bahar, the more generic Middle Eastern restaurant on the beach.)

milas ipad menu

The menu is not just on an iPad but is presented in a wooden case propped up vertically. Yes, that’s harees on the screen. And yes, two harees experiences (I’d also tried it at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding) was plenty for a short time frame.

milas amuse

A chickpea and pine nut salad appeared with sesame-seeded, za’atar-spiced oil and what I want to call pita but the menu in English says is Oriental bread.

milas mbahar deyay

Mbahar deyay, which I ordered because it was the signature dish and one person can only eat so much, is very close to an Indian korma. The chicken breast is served in a lightly spiced, creamy sauce with saffron rice garnished with fried onions and cashews. This also came with green and red chile sauces on the side that weren’t Indian in the least and closer to the flavor and consistency of Sriracha. For the record, outside of resorts food is not prohibitively expensive in Dubai even at a relatively upscale mall restaurant. This entree cost about $16.

milas quad

I was kind of digging the purse hook, gold flatware and toothpick caddy (and that palate was used correctly on the website). Oh, and you are brought perfumes at the end of the meal, which are meant to emulate the hospitality you would experience at someone’s home. I would not know because I don’t think just anyone gets invited for dinner at an Emirati’s house.

klayya exterior

Klayya, a cafe in a smaller shopping center that looked to only be a 20 minute walk from my hotel but ended up being a trauma because the sidewalks literally end a few blocks outside of the central cluster I was staying in, was the source of one of my favorite meals. Once again, I was the only customer.

al barsha quad

In case you wondering, no one walks in Dubai even in the winter when the high is only 79 degrees. The way to Al Barsha Mall by car quickly led to lots of sand and dirt for pedestrians, as well as enormous home compounds covered in flags that may or may have not been a result of the National Day celebration.

bateel counter

Where Emirati food might excel, in my sweet-and-savory-obsessed opinion, is at breakfast. Maybe I just really love dates. (Bateel, a chain whose counter is pictured above, is where one satisfies that urge–I love that even a predominately Muslim country will package confections in a Christmas tree shaped box for the holidays.)

klayya breakfast

From 8am to noon, you can order breakfast combos like this ryoog yerana, described as an omelet, with three breads and karak, a local version of chai. Clearly, it’s not an omelet but hard-cooked eggs (I have no idea if runny yolks, my preference, are not standard) sprinkled with cumin seeds and sitting atop a slew of caramelized, charred on the bottom dates. It’s a lot of food–and only $9.50, by the way.

klayya duo

You can’t see all three in this photo, but the tin of breads holds chebab, which is almost exactly like an American pancake, khameer, the Emrirati answer to pita, and regag, a dosa-like crepe.

klayaa duo interior

Candied flavors paired with protein are kind of love or hate. If you like bastilla or sweet and sour pork or monte cristo sandwiches, you will be on board with Emirati breakfasts. This wasn’t technically my first one. Jetlag bolstered by two days of heavy drinking (big resort brunch, then small town hotel bar crawling) almost killed me (I say only in half-jest). My friend’s sister who I stayed with in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi’s second city, on my third night, reported back to her sibling that I might be dead because I hadn’t moved from the couch long past what seemed like a reasonable amount of sleep. When I was finally able to pull myself together that afternoon, I was made a dish involving scrambled eggs, crumbly white cheese and date syrup. It was amazing. I also credit it with reviving me.

mama tani exterior

Mama Tani is a little new school and specializes in using khameer, the traditional flatbread, in less traditional ways. And I almost hate to point it out, but look, no one’s there.

shake shack entrance mercato mall

It’s not a matter of cuisine or name recognition, I’m afraid. This same shopping center, Mercato Mall, along touristy Jumeirah Beach Road also houses one of Dubai’s five Shake Shacks and there were certainly no lines there either.

mama tani khameer

I chose a savory version stuffed with cilantro, cream cheese (not American cream cheese, but a white processed spread* that became a source of obsession) and toasted walnuts, and a rose pista, which is like a thin, icy milkshake made with rose water and pistachios. There are also sweet khameer with saffron, rose and cardamom creams. Oh, and camel hot chocolate.

mama tani doggie bag

I appreciate the attention to design and branding. A British family did stop in while I was there and got food to go, or rather “takeaway” as they say in the rest of the world including Dubai and the UK, which made me think that asking for a doggie bag wouldn’t be a big deal (it’s not). The cardboard Fed Ex-like package kept my khameer safe (who needs refrigeration?) while I continued on my food ordering while not particularly hungry journey. Envelopes are the style, apparently, because I encountered another later.

local bites cafe counter

Local Bites Cafe is on Jumeirah Beach Road like Mama Tani, but seven blocks south, i.e. not walkable as I quickly learned. Distances are so hard to judge because there are two main drags that everything is clustered around and the rest is desert, a bit like Vegas. Because of the city’s vertical nature when represented cartographically, the scale is off and what looks like two inches on Google Maps is close to ten miles.

Local Bites Cafe had customers. A tourist laptop guy and two Emirati women who sat behind me and wanted to order their driver something with cheese while he waited in the SUV outside. Despite the strangeness of having a chauffeur (this isn’t Saudi Arabia–not only can women drive, there are female taxi drivers) it was nice seeing two women out and about with neither men nor children and I don’t mean that to sound condescending.

local bites cafe balaleet

Balaleet is a pretty traditional breakfast that also does the sweet savory thing. It’s vermicelli cooked with saffron, rose water, cinnamon, sugar and cardamom, emphasis on cardamom, and topped with slices of omelet, in this case an adorable cut out heart.

local bites cafe arabic coffee

If you dislike these spices, you’ll be in big trouble if offered Arabic coffee. And you might be. It’s another gesture of hospitality, usually presented with small no-handle cups. My non-Western chain hotel had a pot in the lobby for the taking. Served in a curvy dallah, important enough to appear on the one dirham coin and serve as Local Bites’ logo, the coffee also gets blended with cardamom, saffron, rose water and cloves. It’s not necessarily something I’d want to drink daily on its own in the morning, but it pairs well with dates and these sweetened egg dishes.

emirati cheese spread

*While writing this, I received a very important Facebook alert from my friend in Abu Dhabi coming home to South Carolina for Christmas. Cheese spread processed in the UAE!

Pack(age) Rat: Amul Pure Ghee

For reasons no one needs to hear about, I recently ended up at the giant Food Bazaar on Northern Boulevard three times in two days. (Aside: despite aisles and aisles of international groceries–and even warm beer–the Middle East is not represented one bit. Where does one get pomegranate molasses in this part of Queens?). Amul Pure Ghee’s colorful can demonstrating leaping and stretching silhouettes mixed in with flowers and butterflies makes eating butter seem like the pinnacle of health. I’m sure someone somewhere is putting it in their coffee.

Photo: Amul

Photo: Amul

Amul is also genius enough to include an ad archive on its site. Processed cheese that’s “easy to use as a cheesy alternative to chutneys, sauces, ketchups and dips?” It’s almost as if Amul is seeing into my soul. Also, mozzarella is simply called “pizza cheese.”

I’ll just leave you with this.

New(ish)born: Little Caesars Pretzel Crust Pizza

little caesars slice

I achieved two new neighborhood milestones today: I joined a gym ($15 a month? Seriously? I can barely complain about no longer having one in my building) and finally paid a visit to the Little Caesars.

Little Caesars itself isn’t terribly motivating. (I’d like to blame its weird lack of an apostrophe à la Tim Hortons.) It’s easy to lump in with faded brands like Boston Market and TCBY that somehow persist. In fact, growing up in suburban Oregon the TCBY and Little Caesars both lived in the same strip mall.

I can say with near certainty that the last time I ate Little Caesars pizza was in 1985 at a picnic table on a weeknight at Blue Lake park, a few towns over, with my family. There was live music, but I don’t remember it. I do remember the crew of unattended kids from middle school sitting a few tables away that triggered embarrassment I tried covering with petulance.

I hoped the group of budding stoners (more methy than potty) not friendly stoners, but girls, some with big waterfall bangs, some who also wore their bangs hanging over one eye and had boots from Wild Pair but didn’t listen to the same music and had older boyfriends they skipped school with and might glare at you in the hallway, couldn’t see me being subjected to a family outing.

I could only express my unease by picking apart the slabs of rectangular pizzas and question why there was a rainbow sheen on the surface of the ham slices. I didn’t eat.

Afterwards, we decamped to the home of a co-worker of my mom’s for dessert, maybe a peach cobbler, definitely with vanilla ice cream. The co-worker had hepatitis, it turned out, type A, I’m assuming, so the next week I had to be dragged to the hospital where my mom worked in billing for a shot, despite screaming and crying that I’d rather just take my chances on developing a liver infection. There wasn’t any choice.

Now I can make all of the poor health choices I’d like for myself. The pretzel crust I’ve seen advertised for the past few months combined with the fact that I now live one tiny block from one of Queens’ only two Little Caesars locations was all the motivation I needed.

little caesars pretzel crust pizza

If I couldn’t initially remember what the appeal of Little Caesars was, it quickly came to me: duh, it’s cheap. This large pie was $6.50 with tax. Little Caesars is for those who think Pizza Hut is getting too uppity with its Sriracha honey and balsamic drizzles. Also, Little Caesars had the pretzel crust first. There is no online ordering, no delivery, no pick of sizes, if you want a cheese or pepperoni pie you will be handed one HOT-N-READY® from a heated case, otherwise your only other choices are more or less Hawaiian, three meat or supreme. Oh, and there are wings, bread sticks and dipping sauces. That’s it.

little caesars takeout

I was afraid the takeout restaurant was abandoned when I walked in to a nice yellow, black and white linoleum scheme and silence. I’m not the sort of person to yell for service so after what felt like a full minute I reopened and shut the door very loudly just as the 7 train was passing overhead and got a young woman’s attention from the back. She really did smile, as per the Hot-N-Ready Promise posted on the wall: “Serve every customer with a smile and a perfect pizza, in less than 30 seconds every time!” My pizza would be ready in five minutes (which wasn’t even sufficient to finish this surprisingly lengthy A.V. Club interview with Megan Amram about Cheesecake Factory.) The only other customer during this wait was an Asian man, also on the young side but probably a dad, who got two of the readymade pepperoni pizzas.

Partially because of the sudden cold wave, but mostly because I was afraid of bumping into someone I knew (even though I know almost nobody in the area and it’s not as if most of my building’s residents could give a hoot seeing me carrying the embarrassing box that was radiating the scent of popcorn butter and pepperoni) I tried to get home as quickly as possible. Please no small talk in the foyer.

little caesars photo

The thing is, there was nothing to be humiliated about because Jackson Heights’ pizza kind of sucks, frankly. It’s not as if I’m ignorantly shunning a Lucali or Motorino here. The prosciutto and arugula pizza, one of my go-tos, I ordered recently from a nearby place I won’t name was a travesty of heavy uncooked dough and what I swear were hunks of impossible to cut country ham and  mealy tomatoes.

(I’ll concede that my recent Taco Bell excursion was egregious, considering the bounty of legit tacos nearby.)

The Soft Pretzel Crust Pepperoni Pizza, on the other hand, is pretty damn good for this genre. My favorite genre: vehicles for processed cheese. What I didn’t realize is that this pizza doesn’t contain tomato sauce, but a layer of creamy cheese sauce, supposedly cheddar, that’s topped by four more cheeses, Asiago, Parmesan, Fontina and white cheddar. 100% real is used everywhere in the ad copy, but I don’t know. It’s a lot of cheesiness, regardless.

I could see this being a very divisive pizza. It’s most definitely not gross, if you ask me, even though it has all of the characteristics. The crispy-edged pepperoni padded by soft gobs of cheese really hits all the sensory neurons and then you get a salt blast as you work your way to the butter-slathered pretzel rim. The bottom of the crust is also buttery so all the little crags almost take on a fried quality, especially after re-heating. Before you can intellectualize what you just tasted, you already want a second slice.

Pro tip: a hit of Trader Joe’s ghost chile flakes adds another dimension.


Un-American Activities: Cheese Fondue Whopper

Burger King has introduced a burger that would be near and dear to my processed cheese-loving self if I were anywhere near South Korea. It’s the Cheese Fondue Whopper, which appears to have swapped out American slices for melted white cheese that may or may not be Emmental.

Actor Lee Jung-Jae makes dipping a fast food burger into processed cheese (in the commercial he submerges half the Whopper into the fondue pot) look like the height of sophistication. The bachelor pad penthouse terrace probably doesn’t hurt.




Eaten, Barely Blogged: Austin Edition

I am not at SXSW and have no intention of going to SXSW but I was just in Austin for the first time and I did eat some food. Barbecue, Tex-Mex and chili is all fine, but my goal was to eat as much queso as possible. Spoiler: I nearly succeeded.

kerby lane cafe migas
You can get migas at 4am at Kerbey Lane Cafe. The corn-speckled rice, beans, crumbled tortilla chips, plus foil-wrapped tortillas on the side is more starch than I’d normally recommend at this hour sober. I missed a queso opportunity here.

texas chili parlor enchilada

I suspect that Texas Chili Parlor is the Gumbo Shop of Austin. I never want to eat at the touristy restaurant in New Orleans but always acquiesce. Normally, I think chili is disgusting (I also just complained on Facebook about accidentally receiving free hotdogs so I’m a monster) but that’s just because I’m biased against the soupy ground beef and kidney bean style. The dense, stewed Texan all-beef version is right on. Really, it’s like a rendang, or to be more geographically correct, carne guisada. I also thought they were bullshitting on the XXX heat level, but it was no lie. XX was safer, though I just had mine slathered on top of cheese (processed, of course) enchiladas. And yes, that’s a small queso in the background.

true detective assemblage

Bloody marys seemed acceptable on an early Saturday, and for the record, the stubby $2.50 drinks were easily 75% vodka. Two, and you’ll think you’ve hallucinated what appear to be True Detective devil’s nests at the so-called botanical garden (as no plants were in bloom, I’m still not convinced).

nuevo mexico dinner

Enchiladas y Mas down the street seemed more promising, but all the clumps of people out front was foreboding and I needed melted cheese asap, so strip mall El Nuevo Mexico sufficed, despite mildly weird service and a slightly downtrodden atmosphere (I want my Tex-Mex to be uplifting). Queso was followed by an enchilada and tamale combo bathed in more orange cheese (and also included a hard shell taco).

louie mueller bbq facade

Barbecue must be eaten in Austin, obviously, even if it means forgetting cheese for a few hours. Barbecue could also merit its own post, but I prefer to just eat it rather than rhapsodizing at length about smoke rings and bark. Since I won’t wait in line for food in NYC, no exception could be made for Texas either. Franklin Barbecue wasn’t happening. A car means you can drive 30 minutes in two opposite directions for the smoked meat cluster in Lockhart or the singular attraction in Taylor.


louie mueller beef rib

I opted for the latter, Louie Mueller, if only because of the imposing beef rib I’d been tempted by online. While everyone eating on a Friday afternoon (standing inside in 10-minute line that in NYC would take 2 minutes) had accents to my ears, they were clearly not locals because I was asked/ma’amed by a few inquiring about the hunk of meat laying on my tray.

louie mueller bbq tray

Even if one beef rib is too much food for two, get some brisket (a mix of lean and moist here) anyway and don’t stress over the sides because they aren’t really anything special. Wheat bread seemed unorthodox, but they did offer it.

louie mueller christmas in february

Louie Mueller certainly wins on decor with a patina that’s hard to fake.  (The fresh plywood version, complete with gargantuan beef rib is available at Hometown in Red Hook fyi.) How long the Christmas tree stays up, I have no idea.

Stiles Switch, lacking the history but retaining a degree of dusty main street quaintness, is not a bad bet, especially if you want barbecue in Austin city limits on a Sunday evening, indoor seating and a beer or two. I will say that my dining companion preferred the brisket at Stiles Switch over Louie Mueller and leave it at that.

tacodeli breakfast tacos

So much trauma for a breakfast taco. I not only take being open on a Sunday for granted, but that in NYC you can brunch till practically sundown. Procuring a breakfast taco at 12:06 took three attempts and ultimately brought me to Tacodeli where I encountered the longest line of the entire long weekend. Whether due to the brilliance of Tacomix’s fare (organic, free-range, not greasy spoon) or because they are the only restaurant in the entire city that serves breakfast until 3pm on weekends, I’m not sure. I would take a regular cheese-less (yes, I know) corn tortilla taco over a breakfast taco, but if you say you didn’t try one there will be hell to pay. Once again, I shirked my duties by forgoing the queso.

lone star court day

Regrets: No kolaches (also a Sunday problem), not making it to Eddie V’s, Darden’s most unknown brand, or any of the chains at The Domain, an upscale-ish mall complex next to my hotel. I mean, there was a freaking Maggiano’s directly in the line of sight from my porch rocking chairs.

Qui? I will give it its own post.

Gotham West Market: El Colmado & The Cannibal

twoshovelApparently, there are two new bacon boards in Hell’s Kitchen: one at BarBacon (which I only learned of today) and another at The Cannibal inside Gotham West Market. The latter might get lost in all of the charcuterie on offer, but it’s worth a look if you aren’t into delving into pig’s heads, chicken livers or raw lamb.

cannibal bacon board

Left to right, this is house made back bacon a.k.a. lardo, what I heard as “lamb bacon” but another thought was “ham bacon,” though admitted that was redundant, and jowl. The firm and crispy mystery bacon in the middle was the universal hit, despite being the slightest bit gamey. Lardo draped on the hearty wheat bread and drizzled with maple syrup (left condiment) is also a good move.. The bacon fat is only for the hardcore.

cannibal pretzel & cheese

We all know fried brussels sprouts flavored with mint now. These, tossed with generous crumbles of salty country ham are different, meatier take. I got overly excited at the sight of liquid white cheese, thinking of my processed favorites. This blend was oddly flavorless, though, almost like thick opaque water. There was a mild sharp cheddar after taste, but not enough to make an impact.

el colmado oysters & cava

El Colmado has a happy hour deal worth walking three avenues for in the urban arctic. $11 will get you six oysters (Malpeques on this occasion) with mignonette sauce and a glass of cava. To be honest, I just a seat at the nearest counter upon entering because I had some time to kill. The oysters were a nice surprise.

el colmado bocadillo de calamar

The mini bocadillo contained an octopus body (grilled, not crispy as advertised and as I’d envisioned–like the ones in Madrid) paired unexpectedly with a minty sauce.

el colmado patatas bravas

Patatas bravas were not only spicier than any version you’d find in Spain, the plate was also larger than anticipated, which is one of those things that’s hard to gauge with NYC tapas, regardless of using price as a guide ($10 vs. $7 for the bocadillo). Instead of pure potato with a spicy brava sauce on the side, these were coated in a chile powder then swathed in aioli.

Ivan Ramen will have to wait.

El Colmado and The Cannibal at Gotham West Market * 600 Eleventh Ave., New York, NY

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

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Summer of Cheese

Nitehawk cinema queso tots

Nitehawk Cinema A lot of melted cheese was consumed
in a one-week period. I ordered the queso tots thinking this was some new unexplored
treat then remembered I’d ordered the exact same thing on my last visit to the
theater. Menu memory lapse happens far more often that I'd like to admit. So, how about that Frances Ha?

Taco chulo eggs benedict

Taco Chulo I also eat at Taco Chulo more than I'd
like to admit. It's never my idea, but it's a block from my apartment and seems
to appeal to picky eaters. If you love processed cheese like I do and can deal
with brunch on occasion, the queso benedict an underdog surprise. Velveeta
instead of hollandaise, sweet toasted cornbread in lieu of English muffins, and
enough spinach and slaw to give the dish a health halo. Save one half and eat it for
dinner once you emerge from your afternoon Bloody Maria stupor.

Artichoke racino pizza

Artichoke Basille's The fabled artichoke cheese dip slice has
certainly garnered a lot of attention since it appeared in 2008. Yet it was
only when I noticed an outpost at the Aquaduct casino that I felt compelled to
try it. It's heavy, for sure, and best consumed in a temperature controlled
environment like a casino food court, otherwise all that warm fat and starch
loses its appeal in 90-degree heat.

Waterman's crab house crab pretzel

Waterman's Crab House Sweat and melted cheese not mixing was
the lesson I learned while tearing into a crab pretzel (crab dip baked onto a
pretzel roll is very much a relative of the Artichoke pizza) on a dock
overlooking the Chesapeake Bay while being blasted with the sun's ray, despite
the table umbrellas. I'd still order the massive appetizer again, though. I
prefer the more demure Phillip's version that you can get a rest stops on the
drive to Baltimore.

Pat's cheesesteak

Pat's and Geno's A pit stop was made on the way back from
Maryland for more unnaturally colored liquid cheese. This was the greasiest
cheesesteak I've ever experienced (and I've experienced quite a few in my time)
and not really in an endearing way. I've always been partial to Pat's, though,
because it's less flashy. Geno's version was consumed for breakfast the
following day and not photographed. The only reason why Pat's was eaten on the
spot and Geno's was saved for later is because Geno's gives bags and Pat's does

Help. I just bought a 12-pack of Kraft Deluxe
American slices at C-Town when there are perfectly nice real cheese shops
within walking distance.

How Should a Cheese Be?

Land-o-lakes-american-cheeseProcessed cheese is having a moment. I was recently wowed by the provel used at Speedy Romeo. Then The New York Times went on a full-on no shame foods bender where I discovered that chef Wylie Dufresne shares my love (discussed here and here) of Land O'Lakes American Cheese. There's a fresh pack of Wegmans wrapped white American cheese singles in the fridge right now, and they're just not the same. It has to be the thick-cut, stacked, matte-finish American cheese.

Also, American cheese just popped-up while I was reading How Should A Person Be? (Is everyone reading that or is it just popular among the sites I track via RSS?).

Heading out of the station for a smoke, in pain, I passed two teenage girls who were standing with their bags before a deli, gazing up at its illuminated menu. 
    "What is American cheese anyway? I heard one of them say.
      Her friend replied, "I think that means it has a chemical in it."

I’m trying to glean insights. On how a person should be, that is, but I would take some processed cheese insights, too.