Category Archives: food

Quasi-Moldavian roasted fingerling salad

First fingerling potatoes are at the farm market and I made a salad:

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Recipe:  Cut (don’t peel) potatoes, roast at 425 for 20 mins with some salt, pepper, oil (I use grapeseed.) Let cool a bit, then toss with chopped scallions, dill (had no fresh so I used dried), crumbled-up feta, and the best olive oil you have in the house.  I’m liking Partanna lately.

This is basically taken from the Moldavian Potato Salad recipe in Please to the Table but I like it better with roasted potatoes and without the vinegar.  My apologies to the Moldavians.

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Midwestern deli heresy

Gave colloquium at Michigan yesterday and stopped at Zingerman’s at the way out of town to pick up some supplies I can’t get in Madison:  belly lox, pastrami, and tongue.

Zingerman’s is, of course, nationally famous as a deli outpost in the vast pastramiless reach of the Upper Midwest.  (Is there even a deli in Chicago that’s as famous?)  And the food there is indeed pretty great.  But here’s my Midwestern deli heresy:  I think the meat at non-nationally-famous Katzinger’s, in Columbus, Ohio, is better.

 

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Kou Shui Ji at ZenZen Taste

New, very good Chinese place out by West Towne:  ZenZen Taste, featuring what Steph Tai calls “contemporary Chinese” food, neither traditional nor Americanized.

I have had Szechuan peppercorn before but never so much Szechuan peppercorn as in their kou shui ji (literally “saliva chicken,” here rendered “mouth-watering chicken.”)  It is hard to describe in words what this actually does to your mouth.  To an extent you feel you have chewed a lemon.  At the same time your lips buzz as if you’ve eaten something spicy-hot and salty.  When you drink water, the water tastes sour and fizzy.  How much kou shui ji did I eat?  I ate two bites of kou shui ji.  I was defeated by the kou shui ji.

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A boy’s first casserole

CJ had a vision for dinner. I don’t know where he came up with this. But he said he wanted mashed potatoes with green beans and chopped up hardboiled eggs. OK I said but you know what it needs, some Penzey’s toasted onions and we can put some chunks of gruyere in there and it’ll melt. In the end I was suspicious of the hardboiled eggs so we had them on the side. The final product was something I think could easily be sold in the grocery store hot case at $8.99 a pound. I know this looks kind of like barf, but it works. (See also: the Israeli electoral system.)

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Food I ate

Of course the really important thing about traveling isn’t seeing old friends or selling books, it’s eating things you can’t eat at home.  So here’s my list of some notable things I ate.

The Koji Uehara burger at Mr. Bartley’s.  A new one, very good.  With onion rings, of course.

Peking ravs at the Hong Kong. Traditional.

A double cheeseburger at Charlie’s Kitchen.

Big sub at the amazing Bub and Pop’s.

Green curry from Regional Thai, which 15 years ago was my favorite place to eat in Chelsea (maybe tied with Rocking Horse Cafe.)  Still good.

A crottin, taken to go at Murray’s Cheese Shop and eaten while walking.

Schnitzel and bright-pink Berliner Weissbier at Lederhosen deep in the West Village.

My Ferry Terminal usual:  salami cone from Boccalone and mac and cheese at the Cowgirl Sidekick.  This mac and cheese possibly my national favorite apart from the one at Miss Mamie’s Spoonbread Too, which was farther uptown than I got this NYC swing.  (This also explains why no belly lox this time.  Though now that I think of is, this could have been my chance to try Russ and Daughters.)

I’m over Mission burritos.  Sorry.  So this time I had Mission pierogi at Stuffed.  Dumb name, decent pierogi, but surprisingly awesome sauerkraut, more like halbsauerkraut with a jolt of I think caraway?  My recommendation: just buy their sauerkraut, buy a taco somewhere else, put the sauerkraut on the taco, resell it at your popup fusion cart.  Become wealthy beyond human ability to imagine.

BBQ sampler, including kalua pig, from the 808 Grinds Hawaiian cart in Portland’s city of food carts.  The fried chicken, surprisingly, was the standout.  But if it doesn’t move, Portland, it’s not a cart.  You must accept this, Portland.  You’ll feel better when you do.

Four-chowder sampler at Pike Place Chowder.  Long line?  Tourists?  Yes and yes (though shorter lines, and fewer tourists, than at the Original Starbucks down the block.)  But really, really good chowder.  And eating chowders in a flight formation is, I think, the right way.

Terrific black fideus at Aragona.

 

 

 

 

 

Reader survey: in what small way are you weird?

Lots of us are weird in big, noticeable ways, that’s for sure.  But I was looking the other day at a series of photographs of people’s fridges and I realized, you know what’s weird about me?  In a small, barely noticeable way?  I don’t have any beer in my fridge.  I never do.  In fact, I don’t really have any alcohol in the house of any kind.  Maybe a bottle of Trader Joe’s white wine I used a cup of for cooking at one point.  OK, I just looked and there’s a bottle of rum in the back of the cupboard.  Who knows where it came from or how long it’s been there?

It’s not that I don’t drink; I do.  But I don’t drink at home.  For me, beer is for drinking at bars, or at parties.  I would never sit and drink a beer and watch the ballgame, or drink a glass of wine with family dinner.  But I think this is actually slightly weird and almost all people have beer in the fridge.

Reader survey:  in what small way are you weird?

(Note:  this would make an excellent question for OKCathy!)

 

 

 

Land of Milk and Honey and Hummus and Beet Ballerinas

I visited Hebrew University for a week in January, and Peter Sarnak, no doubt thinking of my sadly out-of-date How To Eat Dinner in Princeton page, asked me if I was going to blog the restaurants of Jerusalem.  OK, so here’s a go.  Let’s start with the best thing I ate in Israel:

Beet Ballerina

This is beet ballerina with goat cheese at Cafe Itamar, on Moshav Ora just west of Jerusalem.  (Here’s an English writeup.)  “Ballerina” is a kind of pasta I saw on several menus in Jerusalem; I think it’s more or less campanelle?  Simple dish, but really well-made.  The pasta looks beautiful and tastes kind of rooty without really aggressively beeting at you, if you know what I mean.  And the rest of the meal was almost as good.  Cafe Itamar was a casual place, concentrating on the produce from the moshav’s collective farm, somehow very Israeli indeed despite having a fairly straight European menu of pastas, pizzas, and salads.  Worth the trip from town.

We spent one morning in the shuk at Mahane Yehuda — burekas and sweet, gelatinous sachlav at Gveret Burekas, kanafeh somewhere in the market, and then a terrific lunch at Mordoch, where a woman sits in at a back table speedily rolling kubbeh, which then appear in an awesomely sour yellow vegetable soup.  And there’s hummus, lots of hummus.

And more hummus at Hummus Asli in Tel Aviv, where we had the best malawech we ate in Israel, much flakier and lighter than the one we got at the the Yemenite Jewish restaurant Tamani in Jerusalem.  And the only falafel I ate while I was there, because I don’t think of myself as liking falafel, but Asli falafel changed my mind.  I didn’t eat any more falafel because I wanted to leave the toggle switched to “yes.”

As for Tamani, it was heavy and rich, a kind of soul food — good, but what I was really hoping for was something more refined, specifically the honey-rosemary chicken I remembered eating at the Yemenite Step twenty years ago.  There’s no more Yemenite Step and I guess no more honey-rosemary chicken either.  Was that all the hummus?  That was not all the hummus.  Because there’s also the Lebanese Restaurant — which my brother-in-law tells me isn’t Lebanese, but that’s the name, the Lebanese Restaurant — in Abu Ghosh.  Hummus, hummus basar (i.e with spiced meat), more kubbeh, this time fried, all served family style on long wooden tables in an immense, crowded, punishingly loud room.

Only one shawarma, but it was a shawarma laffa, or as Americans might call it, “burrito-style.”  Why don’t we eat it that way here?  I guess we do — here’s a picture of one from Illinois, which gives the general idea.  A burrito place has a sidebar where you can get salsa, and a shawarma laffa place — or at least Hashamen, the place my brother-in-law likes —  has a sidebar where you can get amba, which, wow.

 

 

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Babies, Alinea, cigarettes

A couple had a reservation at Alinea and their sitter cancelled at the last second and rather than absorb the $500 loss they decided to show up there with their 8-month-old baby.  It didn’t work out, the baby cried, other customers were annoyed, chef Grant Achatz tweeted to his follows to ask how he should have handled it:

Then lots of people went ape about it, as is customary.

Emotions about this stuff run very high, for some reason.  As for me, I wouldn’t bring a baby to Alinea.  Then again, I also wouldn’t think someone who did so was some kind of war criminal.

But what this makes me think about is smoking in restaurants.  Yes, younger readers, people used to do this!  (And in France, even though it’s illegal, they still do, right?  Help me out, French readers.)  If a baby’s crying in a classy place, I’d find it annoying, but I would never say it ruined my experience.  So I’m kind of rejecting the claim that a top-tier dinner is the same thing as a classical music performance or a play from this point of view.  Though see here for further thoughts on the relationship between high-end Chicago dining and the legitimate theatre.

On the other hand, if somebody were smoking at a nearby table?  That person is literally mixing a bad-smelling substance into the food I paid $500 for. It’s hard for me not to see that act as inherently more disruptive and dinner-ruining than a wailing baby.

Which is just to say that all these arguments about what rules should be “obvious to any thinking person” are kind of nuts.  The rules don’t have justification — they are social norms, which are self-justifying.  You shouldn’t bring a baby to Alinea because people, in this country, in this year have come to feel that their $500 buys them the right not to hear a baby.  In some places and times, it didn’t buy you the right not to have cigarette smoke in your food.  No one, back then, would have complained that the smokers in the room were ruining their special night — right?  But now we would.  Cigarettes haven’t changed, food hasn’t changed, noses haven’t changed:  only the rules we make up for ourselves have changed.

In the comments, feel free to rant about how much you hate smokers, how much you hate breeders, how much you hate non-smokers, how much you hate non-breeders, or what rights you consider yourself to have purchased when you go out for a very expensive meal.

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I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a smørrebrød today

Back from this very interesting conference on homological stability at the University of Copenhagen.  First time in Denmark.

Two things that struck me — or rather, in a sense, one thing that struck me twice — a kind of relaxedness about money.  I wanted to rent a bike to see the city a bit on the conference half-day, but ended up only having an hour or so free.  I found a bike shop that offered daily bike rentals and asked if they rented by the hour; the proprietor said, don’t worry about it, just leave your driver’s license here and take the bike and we won’t charge you.

The next day, I stopped at the smørrebrød shop to get my morning smørrebrød, but was out of Danish cash, and found that my PIN-less US credit card was no good there.  And again, I got “don’t worry about it” — just take your smørrebrød now, said the smørrebrød-maker, and come back and pay me tomorrow.  Which is what I did.

Unthinkable behavior for a shop in the United States, or am I wrong?

Re bikes and smørrebrød:

  • Copenhagen is the only place I’ve ever seen where the dream of bikes as an equal part of traffic seems to be a reality.  It’s a true pleasure.  Also, my stereotype that Europeans don’t wear helmets isn’t quite right; I’d say about a quarter of the riders were helmeted, including lots of young, hip-looking people.
  • Smørrebrød!   They are little open-faced sandwiches on which you can put almost anything.  I got them for breakfast every morning and ate them as I walked to the university, even though I think eating smørrebrød at 8am and eating while walking in general are somewhat non-Danish things to do.  They served raw beef smørrebrød at the conference reception but for breakfast I didn’t go so wild; my favorite was the frikadeller, a meatball with a kind of creamy dill sauce on it.  There is a very enthusiastic smørrebrød blog  where you can learn more.  Also, Copenhagen’s most famous smørrebrød house now has an outpost in New York.

Update:  Hey, I should at least give the generous Danish shopkeepers credit by name!  The excellent smørrebrød I ate every morning were from Madmanden on Classensgade.  And the folks who let me borrow their bike free were at Cykelsmeden on Nørregade.

Via NPR, some smørrebrød:

F*** yeah belly lox

At the very end of yesterday’s NYC trip I was in midtown with an hour before I had to leave for the airport, so I did what anyone would do — took the 1 up to 79th street and dashed into Zabar’s to get a half-pound of belly lox in an insulated bag with an ice pack.

Belly lox is not the lox you get on a bagel at the bagel store, no way.  It’s not smoked, but salt-cured, from the fattiest part of the salmon.  It is salty, very salty.  It presents a resistance to the teeth, then snaps, then melts like butter in your mouth.  It’s something like a very briny top-quality sushi invented by Jews and sliced very thin.  Of all the things people claim they only do right in New York (pastrami, bagels, pizza, etc.) belly lox is the one they actually only do right — hell, as far as I know, only do at all — in New York.

You could have this on a bagel, but should you really dilute the majesty of belly lox with that much bread?  On the other hand, it’s too intense to eat more than a few bites of it plain.  Here’s the way I’m eating it — on an Ak-Mak cracker with a little cream cheese.  Holy hell, this is amazing.

bellylox

 

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