Strange Radiation

Andrew Willett, unreliable narrator.

Category: chow (Page 1 of 2)

Books/Baked Goods/Memewrangling

So I went to Books of Wonder, the best kids’ bookstore in NYC or anywhere else in the universe, so far as I can tell, the other day. My niece is turning 7 shortly, and I had duties to perform. (She recently saw Coraline, and expressed a desire to read the book. How can I say no? She’s also getting the fabulous Clan Apis. Science!)

Anyway, you can’t go to BoW without stopping at the cupcake counter. Or I can’t, anyway: it’s run by the fabulous Cupcake Cafe people. You can keep Magnolia Bakery’s vapid and oversweet efforts — the only reason people eat them, far as I can tell, is because they saw them on Sex and the City. For my money, CC’s dense cake and heavenly buttercream frosting whomp MB’s efforts into next week. And that’s without mentioning how totally beautiful their creations are to look at. Almost a shame to eat them, almost.

I told a friend about my visit — okay, I gloated about it — and he asked, “Did you take a picture for that website?”

“What website?”

Dudes with beards eating cupcakes.”

No, I didn’t, for the record. Maybe next time. But I was pleased to note it as an addition to an emerging internet meme: blogs entirely devoted to juxtapositions of three things. The other two sites I’ve seen are Selleck/Waterfall/Sandwich and Bea Arthur/Mountains/Pizza, which offer endless collections of weird surrealist landscapes. Dudes/Beards/Cupcakes doesn’t have the others’ zen-bouquet quality; instead it feels more like somebody’s personal fetish run amok. It’s noteworthy, I think, that they’re all tumblr blogs, but whether that tells us something about tumblr or the state of web culture in general I’m not sure. As to the inevitable why? In the words of Xeni Jardin at BoingBoing, “Because INTERNET.” And that’s the best explanation we’re likely to get.

Julie & Julia (& Nora) (& You)

I was going to post something about the Weimar cabaret orchestra that’s doing drop-dead fabulous covers of New Wave tunes, but this is even better.

Julia Child started cooking classes at Le Cordon Bleu in the late 1940s. She published Mastering the Art of French Cooking, her first, revolutionary cookbook, in 1961, and began her equally revolutionary television program not long thereafter. In 2002, a woman in Brooklyn named Julie Powell started a blog, The Julie/Julia Project, in which she cooked a different meal from MAFC every night in her teeny tiny NYC-style kitchen in a neighborhood with no decent grocery store, gradually working her way through the entire book. In 2004, Julia died; I found Julie’s blog through the lovely essay she wrote reflecting upon the yearlong experience and how Julia had transformed both Julie’s life and her own. In 2005 the blog became a book, as they were wont to do at the time. In August 2009 the cookbook that became a blog that became a book will become a movie, staring Amy Adams as Julie and Meryl freaking Streep as Julia Child. Written and directed by Nora Ephron, of course, because who else could it have been?

Come on, how can you not see this? With a group of dear friends who like to eat. And then you go out for a fabulous meal afterwards. Or — even better! — cook one together.

That’s all for tonight. For my part, I have completed the laundry and am going to bed.

a creeping certainty of impending doom

I am kind of underemployed right now — in fact I’m really underemployed, and if anybody needs a freelance editorial guy with smarts and the ability to learn quick, please contact me; résumé and enthusiastic references available on request — but up until today I was not worried.

Today, however, I realize that in fact I am probably going to starve to death.

RIP BurritoVille (1992-2008).

ny moment #44,201

Good evening, intrepid NYC eaters-of-food! Tonight’s cooking-at-home question: if you’re jonesing hard for “Tater Tots”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tater_Tots1, but all your grocery store carries is “Kineret Mini Potato Latkes”:http://www.kineretfoods.com/products/415.php2, are you bound for glory or disappointment? Stay tuned, because we’re going to find out!

UPDATED: Oh yes. Glory, my friends. Glory.

1 I love it that Tater Tots have a Wikipedia entry. But how could they not?

2 I’d really love to call these latkitos, because they’re, y’know, mini. But perhaps that’s getting a little too great-American-melting-pot-y. I dunno. I may just do so inside my own head.

whine and food

The phone rang eventually. Progress, but no resolution. I guess I’m waiting until Monday, then. Aaargh.

In the mean time, though, here’s something to chew on: a foodie does Puebla. Oh my stars and garters, does this make me hungry.

factoids du jour

Because I am presently bored out of my mind here at my desk, I was just taking a little Internet break, reading an article about macaroni and cheese in today’s NY Times. It even comes with recipes (creamy and crusty)! And who doesn’t love macaroni and cheese? Aside from those who also hate freedom?

Anyway, along the way I learned the answers to a constellation of questions that have long plagued me:

American cheese is simply cheddar or colby that is ground and emulsified with water, said Bonnie Chlebecek, a test kitchen manager at Land O’Lakes in Arden Hills, Minn.

Plain American cheese, labeled pasteurized process cheese, contains the most natural cheese and is the best for cooking. American cheese derivatives are made from cheese and additives like sodium phosphates (acids that promote melting), nonfat dry milk and carrageenan. In descending order of their relationship to natural cheese, they are cheese food, cheese spread (such as Velveeta) and cheese product. [emphases mine]

Wow. Mysteries of the ages, revealed unto us all. Not even the absence of the serial comma from the final two sentences could dampen my joy at such a discovery. Doubtless, all of you will agree.

lunch break

Hokey smokes. I have just discovered a new beloved lunch place to add to the shortlist. Oh, heavens.

The Kati Roll Company is on 46th between 6th Avenue and Times Square. They sell kati rolls, which are six-inch rounds of paratha bread wrapped around a filling. It’s Calcutta’s street-food answer to the wrap sandwich. Apparently they’ve had a teeny tiny little place down in the Village for a while, but I’d not heard of them until they opened their new spot a half-block from my office. It’s a long skinny restaurant with a few tables and a mess of Bollywood movie posters. The posters featured the same actor over and over. I’ll need to find out who he was.

KTRC only serves the one thing: kati rolls. I bought two of them. The first was a shaami kabab roll. Shaami is ground lamb spiced with cardamom and plenty of black pepper. It had a crumbly texture, with plenty of crispy bits, reminiscent of a really good griddle-fried hash. The meat was mixed in with a vegetable pickle (peppers, sweet red onions). The dense paratha was warm and just a little greasy. By the time I finished the thing, my sinuses were singing, and my taste buds were dancing. Yow. So good. The other roll was chicken tikka—spicy, a little sour (lime juice?), a little charred—again served with the pickle. Other rolls contained a spicy potato mixture, paneer cheese, other grilled meats—even one with meat and egg, which I’ve since learned is one of the most traditional forms. You can bet I’ll be back to sample the menu further. Damn, that was tasty.

The two rolls made for a filling lunch, and cost me about $9, which is at the high end of their price spectrum. Depending on what you order, you can do two for $6. If you’re not all that hungry, or just looking for a snack with some substance to it, you’ll be fine with one, and the most expensive of them costs under $5. Check it out.

shadows and fog

I’m in San Francisco this weekend, back in the metropolis of my birth for the first time in what seems like forever. I’m on this completely insane fly-by; there are a zillion people I should have called to say “let’s get together,” only there’s no time to see any of them. If you are one of these people, and you are only learning about my visit now, please accept my humble apologies; better, I thought, to slip in and out unnoticed than to dangle the promise of something that I’d never be able to pull off. (Although I guess I’m blowing my cover by posting this. Bad idea there.) I flew in last night, coming into SF more than two hours late, having sat in a seat that at irregular intervals smelled strongly of puke. Sunday night I go home on the red-eye. Monday I spend the day tripping over the furniture. For now, I’m staying with my cousin.

I’m here for Reuben’s wedding. Tonight was the bachelor party. I worried that there would be straight-boy jiggle-bars, but I figured I could see how the other 90% lives for an evening. Instead, we were told we’d be going to a SF comedy club to catch the 11:00 act. But first we were going to have dinner at some tiny restaurant I’d never heard of.

Oh, the meal. May I please recommend this restaurant to you? It’s Albona Ristorante Istriano. Hot damn, what food. I had pan-fried gnocchi with a hint of nutmeg in a sirloin sauce; this indescribably wonderful mushroom soup; a veal shank that melted off the bone; and a heavenly ripe-canteloupe sorbet that Bruno, the proprietor, had improvised today because he’d found these amazing melons at the market. Throughout the meal, Bruno went to great lengths to make sure we knew all about what he was serving, what he recommended, and how he had cooked it all. He put together sampler dishes of some of his favorites for us to enjoy. He made us feel like family.

We never made it to the comedy club. We decided to linger over the meal instead, swapping stories and drinking much wine and making each other laugh our asses off. I don’t regret that decision for an instant. If you’re in the area, I can’t recommend Albona highly enough.

metropolitan

Tom and Genevieve are in town from Ithaca for the long weekend. As such, we got to have the sort of Manhattan day today that we locals only seem to get when we’ve got somebody visiting from out of town.

After being stood up by the superintendent for the umpty-skillionth time (he’s supposed to install a carbon-monoxide detector, and to stabilize the doorknob on the front door), we went out into the cold morning air. We took the subway up to 96th Street and then walked through Central Park to see the Aztec show at the Guggenheim. I know that it’s bad anthropology to say stuff like this, but: what a seriously weird bunch of people they were. The show wasn’t completely satisfying as an art exhibition or as a cultural overview, but it was still interesting. Lots of gold; lots of stern and carnivorous gods; lots of death. (If you’re ever invited to participate in a Xipe Totec festival, decline.) Also a graceful pumpkin of green stone, and a two-foot grashopper carved from carnelian.

Next, chicken soup and grilled cheese sandwiches at some random diner on Lexington Avenue. About which what more could I say? The air was getting colder, the light already fading, and we needed a little something to get us all the way to dinner. It was perfect. And then we wandered a while, and ambled through the racks at Kinokuniya, and then we went home for a bit and put up our feet.

Dinner was Korean barbeque at Dae Dong on 32nd Street, in vast quantities, spicy and garlicky and savory, with fifty little bowls of companion foods crisp and smoky and fresh and pickled. Wrap it all up with a lettuce leaf—shake the water off it first, preferably on one of your dining companions when he’s not looking—and don’t worry about getting the juice all over your fingers.

After that, a dash down to the Village on the subway, and a quick stroll, for dessert at Chocolate Bar. The brownies and truffles are very good, sure; the chocolate-covered patties of peanut butter or homemade-marshmallow-and-banana are quite fine, it’s true; but the spicy hot chocolate is The Thing. Creamy as anything, made with ground chocolate (not cocoa powder) and allspice and cinnamon and ancho chiles and smoked chipotles. Oh my god. I finished the last sip at least an hour ago, and I still feel like I’m radiating a languid sort of joy.

This is a good city, you know? And I am fortunate indeed to be able to partake of its bounty.

discovery

Man alive, what a beautiful day. Paul and I just got back from a walk ‘round downtown. The San Gennaro Festival is in full swing, which we’d forgotten about, but it just served to force us off the more familiar streets and onto the ones we’ve never before explored. Which is fine, really, because as a result we discovered Dumpling House, at 118A Eldridge Street.

Get thee to the Dumpling House. Right now.

It’s one of those teeny tiny little storefronts that’s maybe six feet across and twenty feet deep. There’s seating for maybe four people. Everybody else is standing at the counter or piled up on the sidewalk, ordering through the window. And why? Because their food is incredibly cheap and delicious. Fried dumplings that will just blow you away, piping hot and savory and gingery and everything you could want in a potsticker, five for a buck. The cooks—five people crammed behind a tiny counter, maybe six, it was hard to tell—were cranking out dumplings as fast as they could, because the minute they came off the stove somebody bought them. We knew that we had to wait a moment or we’d burn our tongues, but the smell coming out of the little styrofoam clamshell made it hard. Eventually, we had to succumb to our appetites and risk getting scorched. I nibbled on one of Paul’s while I waited for my own order to come up. Heaven.

But if the dumpling was heaven, then superlatives fail to describe the beauty of my own lunch. A ‘sesame pancake with beef,’ they called it: it started with a pizza-sized round of soft dough, white and chewy and dusted with sesame seeds and then fried like a dumpling. The dough was cut into sectors (again, think pizza here), and then split through the middle, so the top could be peeled back from the bottom. Into the middle they layered handfuls of fresh grated carrot, fresh chopped cilantro, and cold roast beef flavored gently with anise. Over that, they squirted a peppery-vinegary red sauce. Then they close the thing back up, slip it into a pale wax-paper envelope, and there you are. For a dollar freakin’ fifty.

That was maybe three hours ago, and my taste buds are still all twinkly. We walked from Chinatown to Chelsea and I had a big goofy smile on my face the whole time. And, and I just bought tickets to go see Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence tonight with the boys!

What an excellent day.

For another look at Dumpling House, see cityrag. Or you could just take my word for it and go: here’s a map.

EDITED: although its dumplings are indeed excellent, the name of the place is just “Dumpling House.” The “Excellent Dumpling House,” on the other hand, is that place on Lafayette (which is good, sure, but frankly not as good as the just-plain-Dumpling-House).

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