Sunday, February 28, 2010

Field Trip: Yakitori Totto

 Mrs. Gastro and I are in week two of our throwback diet (no carbohydrates).  At this point, hunger has turned into hanger, and we would give pretty much anything for a pancake or two.  There have been some bright spots (most of them involving steak in a cream sauce), but overall, this diet is for freaks, which I suppose makes us freaks.  Getting to the point of all this, a quick trip to New York City could have unraveled the whole thing, but a dear friend of mine came up with the perfect solution: yakitori.  It's how the Japanese do churrascaria, a much more delicate and intimate experience that I'm assuming can be attributed to the fact that samurai swords are just way too sharp to be carrying meats around a crowded dining room.  Instead, your meats and organs show up on wood skewers, all of which are ordered a la carte.

There are too many skewers to mention, but rest assured, we ate everything there is to eat that a chicken has to offer, plus a few vegetables to health it up.  The experience was great, but if you're not careful, your appetite for charcoal-kissed chunks of chicken can really add up.  No matter, it was great to catch up with my NYC crew, even if I left the joint reeking of a Japanese backyard BBQ (I have no idea what that means).  If you find yourself in Midtown Manhattan during a throwback diet, I highly recommend waiting for a table here.  Buen provecho.

We scored our skewers from Yakitori Totto, located on the second floor of 251 West 55th Street. We had what felt like unlimited skewers, shochu, sake, and sapporo for $90 including tip.  Like I said, it can really add up if you don't watch it, but watching it is really no fun, so expect to spend some money here.  Also, expect to wait if you have a party larger than two.  The place is really small.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Julie & Julia & Julio

Last year's Valentine's Day experience, while not a complete disappointment, was still enough to convince us that cooking at home is the better option on amateur night, so when I saw a hunk of shrinkwrapped chuck roast  at Pathmark, I figured I would try my hand at boeuf bourguignon.  If a six-foot tall lady played by Meryl Streep can do it side-by-side with a food blogger-cum-writer from Queens played by Amy Adams in a really crappy movie, then why couldn't I?  Shit, I could blog about it, too, and change my name to Julio (pronounced "JOO-lee-oh" like this Puerto Rican dude I used to know who really should have stuck with "HOO-lee-oh"), and we can all have a laugh at the parody of it all.

And that's exactly what happened, except I didn't execute very well.  The sauce was flavorful, but the meat was leathery, even after a long and leisurely wine jacuzzi.  The snap judgment--something I'm really good at--is that I suck at braising.  If there's anyone out there that can drop some knowledge about how cooking liquid is supposed to look when you're simmering, please do so.  In the meantime, here's some insight based on hindsight:

1. Make this the day before so you have an easier time skimming the fat.  I skipped this step.  I don't think it helped matters.
2. Clear your schedule. This recipe's a time burglar.
3. Attempting to talk in Julia Child's voice while making this dish does not improve the final product.
4. Watching the movie Julie & Julia doesn't make you a good cook. It just makes you wish you had those hours of your life back.

Best of luck if you decide to give it a shot.  I know I didn't sell it well, but in the end, I had a lot of fun screwing up this recipe.  Plus, it was wonderfully comfortable given the shitty weather.  We served it with slow roasted potatoes dusted with a spice bag I brought home from Morocco, and finally opened up the bottle of Pride 2005 Cabernet Franc that we got on our honeymoon.  Mrs. Gastro has taken to baking cakes, and she made my favorite, yellow with chocolate frosting.  It was a perfect ending to a not-so-perfect meal.  Happy belated Valentine's day.  Buen provecho.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Field Notes: Chicago Hot Dogs

A dear friend of mine just relocated to Chicago.  Something about math and markets during the day and impersonating Grant Achatz in the evenings.  He's somewhat reserved, unless there's a skateboard underneath his feet or a microphone being forced into the crowd.  Anyhoo, I'm really hoping that he'll be my Chicago food proxy, especially after receiving this a few days ago:

"I must have sounded like an idiot ordering, I asked so many questions. Like someone who goes to Pat's and asks how the onions are prepared. People put on a lot of toppings. I asked for sauerkraut, and the big homegirl said, 'This ain't New York.' Then I asked if the hot dogs are pork or beef. 'This is beef, honey. The pork's between my legs.'" 

Thanks, D-tron.  Buen provecho.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Why Did I Eat This?

There are few places more depressing than family night at Uno Pizzeria (especially when you're one of six diners), but your options are severely limited when your plan to "just go and get the BJ's membership" turns into "Maybe we do need a gallon of mayonnaise," and "Sure, we'll definitely finish this suitcase of mixed greens before it wilts," until you've clocked a few laps around the discount warehouse, you're hungry, and more importantly, the baby is hungry.  Under these circumstances, the best choice is always the closest establishment that serves beer and more than likely just reheats their pre-packaged entrees, thereby ensuring prompt service.  Uno was a no-brainer.

Not wanting pizza and feeling perpetually guilty about eating red meat (I'm almost at the point where I feel guilty eating meat in general, which is a real turnaround for me.  It's also a huge bummer), I opted for "Rattlesnake Pasta," penne and grilled chicken in a cream sauce topped with shredded cheddar cheese and pickled jalapenos.  I rationalize ordering the unhealthiest thing on the menu based on both price and the fact that eating such crap only happens once in a while, even if once in a while sometimes means twice a week. This dish was definitely in that category. 

After a well executed magic trick by a ponytailed magician (and a subsequent awkward moment deciding whether or not I had to tip him and then not tipping him*), the pasta arrived in all its gooey glory.  Except that, as you can see, the combination of cold weather and air conditioning caused the sauce to congeal.  Coupled with a stingy sprinkling of cheddar and jalapenos, I was left with forkful after forkful of bland penne.  Each bit made me more depressed, which made me eat more, which made me more depressed (just like poor Fat Bastard).  Our waiter, a rotund and clearly stoned version of Luke Wilson (who looks a bit hefty himself in the AT&T commercials), said it was his favorite.  In retrospect, it probably wasn't the best idea to take a recommendation from Johnny Blaze, but you live and learn, which is really the essence of Why Did I Eat This?  Buen provecho.

*Steve G, if you're reading this, what's the protocol?