Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Life's a 45 when you can't..eat it?



So tonight I finally tried a new and exciting place all on my own volition. OK, well that’s partially a lie because I was going out for dinner with a friend who was in town for the week. But I picked (again, partially) the place.

After scouring New York Magazine for some suggestions in Hell’s Kitchen, my new favorite stomping ground, I selected several choices, from German to Thai. Marissa, my guest, chose a spot which ended up being far more expensive than anticipated. Backtracking, we fell upon Vynl, naturally the first place we passed on our excursion.

Tired, hot, and wetter than a Chelsea boy’s bed on Sunday morning, we threw the door open after a quick look at the menu. We exchanged glances of “where the hell are we?” Records, beach balls hanging from the ceiling, loud music, and generally exuberant ambiance welcomed us. There was no way to get bored here.

Once seated, we were greeted by a jovial waitress who took our drink orders. Grey goose, Chambord, and fruit juice? Yes, please!

As we ordered our food, the waitress commended our choices, confirming the palatial palate pleaser that was to come. First up, a cheeseburger egg roll. Savory beef and gooey cheese inside of a fried shell – perfect. Usually I’m not extremely interested in condiments, but the ranch dressing alongside the burger roll added so many layers of flavor.

EntrĂ©e – mac n’ cheese and quesadillas. My baked mac n’ cheese was a piping hot dish of gruyere, goat (swoon), and a third cheese – I can’t remember everything. A generous helping of crispy bread crumbs was an obstacle, but once I got my fork into those little elbows, I was on my way.


Meanwhile Marissa struggled through her generous appetizer portion of chicken and cheese quesadillas. The tomato salsa was refreshing with just enough spice. Filled to perfection.

As we finished our martinis and pushed our plates away, it was dessert time. Our waitress seemed jealous as we ordered the peanut butter lava cake, the day’s specialty. As the cake came out, with large scoop of vanilla ice cream and some sliced strawberries, we weren’t really aware of what was to come.
But as Marissa broke through the cake with her spoon, gooey peanut butter oozed out. The richness of the chocolate was balanced perfectly with the saltiness of the PB, the ice cream cooled it all down, and the strawberries constituted my portion of fruits and veggies for the day.

We licked the plate clean.

Not bad for 25 bucks a head.

I'm not alone!

Mmm the doner kebab sensation will never end.  And I'm not the only one who knows it.  Except for the part where he calls them healthy (well, he skipped on the meat), this guy is alright.

Did he read about this though?   

Sorry to be repetitive, but I'm still awestruck.  

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Midtown Me-heecan...

Time for another Midtown adventure! This time, instead of pizza, it was Mexican. Chevy’s, the Times Square gem on 42nd Street.

Today, the first official day of summer according to the thermometer, I would have been satisfied with the gigantic frozen margarita that Chevy’s serves up. But pal Kennith and I decided that food wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Kennith visits this place nearly every week (the entire staff knows him!), so I listened to his suggestions. The Fresh Mex Combos let’s you choose 2, 3, or 4 items from a varied menu of options. It was difficult to choose – so I didn’t.

Per Kennith’s command, I got a cheese enchilada, a crispy flauta, and a hard beef taco. And boy was I glad I listened to him.

The flauta was the best decision ever. A log of chicken deep fried in a tortilla with some sort of pink sauce and a mind-blowing brown dipping sauce (think salty duck sauce) was enough to satisfy me. I couldn’t place any of the tastes, even after dissecting the flauta, so I sat back and enjoyed.

The crunchy beef taco with red onion, tomato, and lettuce was a blast of flavor dominated by the onion. The cheese enchilada was soft and gooey, covered in tomato sauce and cheese.

As if that much food wasn’t enough, there was a side of refried beans that hit the spot, and some sort of corn hash that was hearty and almost like a potato in consistency, dotted with kernels of sweet corn.

By the end of the meal, only remnants of the taco remained – a testament to how much food they actually served. And for about $25 per person for all that food and the vat of margarita, well, that ain’t bad.

And even if you don’t enjoy Mexican food, it’s definitely a fun place to watch the tourists and revel in your New York address.

Hot and Cheap...


Thursday, I traveled. Finally! I grabbed my passport and I headed to Midtown West, affectionately known as Hell’s Kitchen, a throwback to the neighborhood’s slum days.

I was en route with friend Hillary to see the new show “Saved” based on the movie of the same name. We all remember Mandy Moore’s stellar performance as a good little Christian girl whose friend gets pregnant.

But I was hungry. What does one do after spending money on a show ticket? With literally no cash and not enough time, one looks for the cheapest food possible.

Thank the heavens for 99 Cents Fresh Pizza on 9th Avenue between 41st and 42nd street. This little storefront pizza shop serves up some of the city’s cheapest pizza. It’s certainly a departure from the kind of pizza you get at any of the Ray’s, Ben’s, or Patsy’s.

The Middle Eastern men behind the counter don’t really pass for Italians, but they know what they’re doing. The pizza is by no means bad. And at less than half the price of most pizza joints, who can complain?

Like any New Yorker, I like my pizza like I like my dates – hot and cheap, and 99 Cents Fresh Pizza provides just that.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Tastes of Home Part II...

So Sunday was anything but lazy as my mom, a veteran cook and amateur innovator (she sticks to staples) prepared a veritable feast for our triple-graduation party. Nothing new. Mom loves to cook.

But the amateur innovator label quickly melted away as Mom proved she still had some tricks up here sleeve.

She provided the usual fare, meatballs, lasagna rolls, Caesar salad, and her signature crabcakes (a-ma-zing). But she rolled out some new dishes that, in 22 years, I had never seen her make. Now there’s a “wow!”

Borrowing from my favorite big-headed Italian, Giada from Food Network’s Everyday Italian, mother whipped up some sun dried tomato jam. The tomatoes, with onions, thyme, olive oil, and love, was cooed to a soft and, well, jam consistency and spooned onto slices of baguette. Dollops of tangy goat cheese topped the little appetizers. I think I ate 10. They are irresistible.

Paella? I didn’t know how Spanish cuisine worked its way into Southeastern Pennsylvania. I mean I think the men who cut the lawn…I mean, it was delicious! My mother has a way with shrimp that I cannot explain. The rice was fluffy and the seasoning was just enough to let the seafood shine through. And rare is the day that dark meat chicken enters her kitchen, but I think she let some slip through the cracks, thankfully.

And if Spain wasn’t enough, she whipped out some last minute Chinese guns with a surprising orange beef dish. Unlike the orange meats of Chinese restaurants, this one was not glazed in an indiscernible sauce (usually to hide the cat meat). Instead it was tender beef cooked with broccoli and whole orange peels. It was a confusing flavor, almost too refreshing for beef, but it worked. I think I had seconds.

It was a perfect way to end the weekend trip home. With a bag full of leftovers, I ventured back to New York, prepared to enjoy the fruits and meats of my mother’s labor all through the week.

(photo notes: I'm just learning how to take photos! Success?)

Tastes of Home Part I

A weekend trip to the suburbs of Philadelphia proved to be more than another feet-dragging trip home. With one eye on satiating my appetite and one on reporting back the culinary gems that can be found, I was ready.

Taking the illustrious NJ Transit to Hamilton Station (at a mere $20.50), I was at the gateway of suburban Philadelphia. None of that $100 Amtrak business for me. Dad picked me up at the train station and drove a mere 25 minutes to the destination -- food.

The results of the voyage were astounding. I re-experienced two extremely familiar establishments in an entirely different way.

First, the restaurant LaStalla, my old employer, was the lunch destination Saturday. This Italian hotspot in Newtown is the suburb’s best attempt at fine dining, with lukewarm success.

The service, extremely familiar to this ex-employee, was standard, friendly, and patient as we struggled to understand the concept of “family style” eating. Once we decided to order family-style pasta and our own entrees, the food came out hot and fast.


Asparagus rollatini, a favorite appetizer of mine (though I never actually sat down at the restaurant to eat it, I usually ate standing up behind the bar…) never misses the target. Crisp spears of asparagus wrapped in prosciutto and fontina cheese and were baked in Romano sauce, what I assume was a fancy butter. Delectable and savory.

The appetizers are apparently meant to set your expectations high, but the meal hit a plateau. Maybe it was our poor choice. A fresh and standard Caesar salad tided us over until the pasta course. Nothing exceptional. A huge dish of pasta with cherry tomatoes in a light red sauce came next, accompanied with generous amounts of parmesan cheese. Simple dish for simple tastes – it pleased. No wows.

Then the fun came out. My chicken Sorrentino, with a layer of eggplant fused to a piece of chicken, was covered in mozzarella cheese and plum tomato sauce. It was delicious, and filling after all of the other food and bread (which I skipped – it had seeds on it, ew). A filling meal for more than $20 a person. As a stand-alone, however, the chicken would have left my tummy
rumbling.

So sitting at the tables and not serving patrons drinks was a refreshing experience. But it made me thankful for the next gastronomic experience that awaited me on Sunday…more to come.

Searching for a doner...

Sorry for the horrid photo!  It'll get better.

So the previous post was not in vain. I mean, I didn’t think it was or anything. I would never waste your time.

Tonight I intended on taking Suzy to Kebab Garden on 1st Avenue in Manhattan. It’s been far too long. But little did I know that Suzy had actually read my previous post and taken note of the address of the city-famous kebab hub.

So we went.

Fortunately the rain held off and the trek was a mere 4-minute walk down MacDougal Street in the West Village, right down the street from where we are both presently squatting.

Five dollars and fifty cents later, we were both seated with our dripping kebab in hand, armed with a fork and a willingness to ingest. At first I was skeptical. The warmed pita was a nice touch. And I knew that there was freshly cooked meat waiting beneath the salad, in addition to the heaps of lamb on top of the green bed. Lettuce, tomatoes, and a white onions flecked with pieces of red onion made the sandwich feel healthy.

But I asked Suzy if she thought she could squeeze a wineglass full of grease out of the sandwich. She cringed and drove her fork back into the mess.

On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being a Montana kebab (come on, it has to be bad) and 10 being a German/Turkish kebab (because Germany does have the third highest population of Turks!), the Yatagan doner kebab earns a 6 for overall taste. It wasn’t too salty, but the meat was tender and juicy. The salad was surprising fresh and pleasant, and the white sauce was definitely the highlight.

Sadly, it only earns a 3 for eatability. It fell right apart. And let’s face it, if you are drunk and raucous, you need your food to be manageable. But not a bad find, considering I’ve lived up the street from this little hut for the past 2 years!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A spoonful of peanut butter makes the medicine go down

Gone are the days of watching my father prepare a turkey and cheese sandwich for my brother and me every school night. The sandwich, cut in two halves, would find its way into a plastic bag or, as the green movement began to rev up, into a reusable Tupperware container and landed in the fridge. My how times have changed.

Today’s lunch: peanut butter sandwiches.  But unlike my father’s careful fashioning, I take a different approach. This morning before work I threw a jar of peanut butter and a few pieces of bread into my bag. Classy, I know.

Noon rolled around and I found myself spreading creamy Skippy onto a whole-wheat slice of bread with a plastic spoon and then ate it like toast. Make, eat, repeat.

There’s just something about peanut butter that is so satisfying. Is it the satiation of a high protein snack that tastes good? Is it the way that only milk can free your mouth from its sticky grip? Is it the way it hardens when it is heated and poured on top of ice cream as the savory compliment to the sweet dessert? Is it the childhood nostalgia of eating PB&J with Doritios stuffed in between the sandwich (Or is that just me?)?

It’s all of the above and more. It’s a versatile ingredient that brings back memories no matter how it’s prepared. And it’s just so tasty.

A coworker, via g-chat, discovered that I was eating peanut butter. Four minutes later she had ventured across the office, armed with a plastic spoon, and helped herself to a glob. She lauded the virtues of Skippy and departed with a smile. I was glad to have furnished the sunshine in her life for the day.

Peanut butter just has that effect.