Friday, April 30, 2010

Field Trip: Local West

Dear New York friends, I'm sorry I didn't look every last one of you up when I was there the other day.  I was too busy drinking away the pain of the realization that the douchebags surrounding me at Local West probably make more money than I do.  Submitted for your consideration, Emil Corsillo from Hickoree's shows us the proper way to order a drink there.

And as a follow-up, Mr. Corsillo explains what would happen in a world where swift justice is the norm. Unless you have a sponsor (Pete Bisso's a good choice, and he's not much of a douche), you're better off brown bagging a 40 by the pier. And yes, I'm thirty-one years old. Buen provecho.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Field Trip: McCrady's, Charleston, SC

There is a distinct possibility that Sean Brock, executive chef of McCrady's in Charleston, SC, may have stumbled into a time machine fashioned by Eli Whitney somewhere around the turn of the century.  Better yet (and capitalizing on recent media trends), perhaps he is a vampire.  That might explain the fact that he never sleeps, which I am guessing there isn't much time to do so as he tackles the dual role of executive chef and gentleman farmer.  Or quite simply, farm-to-table was the norm for his rural upbringing.  Whatever the case may be, he is both an old soul and an innovator.  In the soft-spoken monologue above, he exudes passion for food, stresses the importance of creating a sense of place, and outlines some of his efforts to undo more than a century of agribusiness food fuck-ups.

Upstairs, where I drank way too many bourbon and cola cocktails, I got the pulse on the Charleston wedding scene from Kiah Stone, who was also pivotal in getting me an audience with Mr. Brock (and more importantly, rattling off his many accolades and food philosophy before I sat with him).

Prior to the interview phase of the evening, I ate what could have easily been my last meal. Passed h'ors d'oeuvres included fried green tomatoes--a single bite of brittle cornmeal surrounding tart and juicy flesh--and crab cakes that posessed a subtle crunch and delicate meatiness (that's a good thing).

As an amuse, a perfectly cooked scallop presented with oyster mushrooms (I think) and asparagus (maybe a bit more than an amuse).

For the first course, a charred marshmallow slowly melted into a rustically textured sweet potato soup.

The main course was a standard filet mignon that was anything but. It was perfectly executed, and the flavor of the beef needed little more than salt and pepper.

For dessert, a duo of chocolate mousse cake and something that everyone was calling, "oh my god, did you try the banana cake?" It was perfection from start to finish, and I'll be shocked if Mr. Brock doesn't take home the Beard award in the coming weeks. Given the time and resource, I would go back to Charleston just to eat here. If your travels take you to the dirty south, I recommend you do the same. Buen provecho.

McCrady's is located at 2 Unity Alley in Charleston, SC. All pertinent info regarding reservations, etc. can be found on their website  Some tooling around on the internet helped me locate Sean Brock's blog as well. Much props to both Kiah Stone and Sean Brock for taking the time to talk to me.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Why Did I Eat This?

If cleanliness is godliness, then what is timeliness?  Beats the shit out of me, because I'm overdue in trying the Double Down.  A week late, but certainly not $7.54 short, which appears to be the going rate for heart disease.  That's for the meal, which comes with potato wedges and a soda.  The sandwich itself is $5.38, enough to make the "lady" who ordered behind me taunt the cashier with threats of "It better be good."  If it were any cheaper, I'd be asking myself more than "Why did I eat this?"  Of course, I do my best to eat first and ask questions later, but by the time I'm done eating, I'd rather take a nap, so most questions go out to pasture.  Regarding WhyDIET? however, the answer lies of course in my own stupid curiosity, but also some goading from the in-laws, one of whom even told me I had fans (note to the rest of you readers: tell me my fans want me to do it, and I may even take the milk bet (again)).  Initial reviews of "it's too greasy" and "it's too spicy" (biter Sam Sifton, Hamburger Calculus, and Mikey Il on Unbreaded) lowered my expectations so far that I was more scared than excited to try it, but the franken-wich that I unboxed was neither.  In fact, it was actually kind of dry.  The teaspoon of Colonel's sauce didn't help matters, nor did the one square inch of bacon that was blanketed by a congealed slice of processed American cheese product.  And much like the rest of KFC's menu, the impending headache grew more intense with each bite as the novelty was quickly replaced with depression.  This was no triumph.  I suppose it's like seeing the musical Cats, or so I've heard. 

Slightly unhealthier than the sandwich was the venue I chose (for its proximity to my office), the food court in the Gallery mall in Philadelphia.  Even in the absence of flash mobs, there's no guarantee you won't get stabbed, which is a shame, because it's got an all-star cast of fast food, including a Golden Krust.  Wherever your local KFC might be (if you have a "local KFC," chances are you've eaten one of these per day since their inception), it wouldn't do all that much harm to try it, if for nothing else than to say you did.  You'll feel slightly dirty afterward, but that feeling fades, especially after a few gin & tonics.  Buen provecho.

Friday, April 16, 2010

My Friends are Cooler Than Your Friends: Delicatessen's Michael Spector

Michael Spector surveys his deli and sighs.  "My mother and grandmother used to bring me to places like this for Saturday lunches, usually after a bit of shopping."  This is something I know absolutely nothing about, but it's one of those memories that even a lobotomy couldn't erase.  So vivid, and so formative.  Granted, I didn't meet my first Jew until high school, so it's not like I would know about such things.  But it's a jump-off point, an homage to the old school with a progressive bent, call it Deli 2.0.  Being the diplomat he is, Spector's ultimate goal is to have a deli rooted in tradition that also offers something for everyone.  Judging by the extensive menu (thanks, Meal Ticket), he's off to a great start.  There are traditional offerings such as matzo ball soup and house-smoked pastrami, as well as offerings such as Bubby's Kitchen Sink Pho (rice noodles in matzo ball soup with assorted meats and whatever else is lying around in the kitchen) and a Tuxedo Dog (cheese-stuffed and bacon-wrapped Hebrew National).  Another goal of Spector's is to have fun, and to do so, Delicatessen is currently running a sandwich naming contest on their Facebook page.  Leave your idea on the fan page, and whoever gets the most comments will be able to eat their creation for free the entire month of May.  Next month, they are running a funniest Bar/Bat Mitzvah photo contest.  Clearly, nobody is taking themselves too seriously here (that's a good thing).

So how's the food?  I ordered "Mom Mom's Tuna Fish Salad Melt" and Pastrami Waffle Fries, more than enough for even the likes of me.  The tuna melt was served open-faced on challa bread, with muenster cheese and sliced tomato.  Latkes were served on the side, one of many items you can order as an accompaniment.  The tuna salad was excellently balanced.  It was neither gloppy nor dry, and there was enough celery to add a subtle crunch without overstepping its boundaries.  The latkes were thin and crisp, the grease held in suspension so you got the flavor without the sogginess.  The pastrami waffle fries--well, let's just say that I'm not too proud of how I handled myself after the first bite.  A decadent mess of potatoes, swiss cheese, russian dressing, cole slaw, and pastrami, I couldn't put my fork down.  The pastrami was peppery and chewy and meaty, and I know this may sound disgusting, but it was so good that I might not floss for a few days in the hopes that some of it sneaks out from in between my teeth.  Failing, that, I'll just have to return, and soon.  For drinks, Delicatessen offers micro-brewed sodas from Multi-Flow, a local brand of fizz sweetened with real cane sugar, the requisite Dr. Brown's sodas, and La Colombe coffee.

Spector still considers Delicatessen very much a work in progress.  Although he's been in the game for a number of years, this is his first role as proprietor. He says that right now, there is more that he doesn't know than what he does.  But he's an eager student, constantly looking for ways to improve product and service.  Personally, I think Delicatessen is off to a great start, and not just because I ate for free because we are old friends.  Being there during the lunch rush, I watched a cohesive kitchen and waitstaff expertly handle a full house, including a stroller brigade and an old lady with too much money and time on her hands.  My only recommendation besides getting there as soon as you can?  Go hungry.  Very hungry.  Buen provecho.

Delicatessen is located at 703 Chestnut St. in Philadelphia.  They are open M-F from 8am to 4pm, and Sa-Su from 9am-4pm.  For takeout, call 215-923-4560.  I ate for free, but you can get nice and full for around $12-$15 plus tip. More photos here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why Did I Eat This?

While the rest of the world clogs the arteries of the press (here's Unbreaded's take) with tales of clogging their own arteries with KFC's Evel Knievel of a "sandwich," I find myself at Dunkin' Donuts eating a somewhat (but not by much) healthier gimmick, the Bagel Twist.  Currently offered at 3 for $3, what you see above is the cheddar cheese offering in actual and ad form (in the top image, you can see that I asked for mine to be stepped on.  The cashier happily obliged).  You can also get cinnamon raisin, and according to the Dunkin' website, select markets will have jalapeƱo cheddar and french toast offerings. I will be sampling none of these.  The takeaway here is that a shitty bagel is still a shitty bagel, no matter the shape.  Even with the cheddar cheese product baked into the top, it's hard to get past the rubbery staleness that is the Dunkin' bagel.  They should really stick to donuts.  Buen provecho.

Sam Sifton is a Biter

I know it's a free country and all, and I suppose that it's my own fault for lack of timeliness, but this post by Sam Sifton on the NY Times Diner's Journal blog sounds a lot like "Why Did I Eat This?"  To which I say, in Beat Street parlance, "You're a biter."  Do yourself a favor and stick to the high brow dining in obscurity for the benefit of those with an expense account. I'll scoop the readers on the deadly empty calories.  Otherwise, a breakdance battle will ensue, and I guarantee that you will get burned.  This is not a threat, it's a promise.  Buen provecho.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pillow Status: Dining On the Slept On

I suppose it's ramen's and pho's fault that Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House in Philly's Chinatown has reached pillow status, but it's a boon for the likes of us who have limited time for lunching.  Shoehorned into a row of storefronts slanging shrinkwrapped rubber products and dehydrated foodstuffs of questionable USDA status, you might miss it if you blink.  Once inside, you're not greeted by much--a few restaurant depot tables and chairs, but looking back into the open kitchen is a sight to behold.  Just beyond the cash register, you'll see a Chinese dude tossing about an enormous blob of dough that will eventually become your noodles.  Served with your choice of protein in a bowl of broth that tastes like has been simmering since before I was born, the noodles have a just-made-this-second gummy texture (a very good thing).  You can also get them on a plate topped with either peanut sauce or "pork soy sauce," a gingery and salty meat sauce that might just be the Chinese version of bolognese.  It was exactly what I wanted to eat and I had no idea until the first bite.  All in all, a stellar find.  Before comfort food season gives way to lighter fare, it would be in your best interest to forgo the pho and the ramen to give Nan Zhou a whirl.  And if you're not in the mood for soup, just order the noodles straight up.  You won't regret it.  Buen provecho.

Nan Zhou is located at 927 Race St in Philly's Chinatown. It's a tiny hole in the wall, so be careful not to stumble into what might be an opium den behind the wrong door (or try your luck). I got a huge plate of noodles for $6 including tip.

Friday, April 02, 2010

How Much Is That Birdie in the Window?

You learn something new every day, but on the days you have lunch with Ethan, you want to make sure you pay attention.  Case in point: The best English translation for the scallion-tattooed chicken hanging in the windows of many a Chinatown restaurant is "smoothly and fragrant" chicken. Sounds fuckin' weird, but it's the best thing on the menu. The lacquered one hanging right next to it is called soy chicken (not to be confused with the spongy alt-meat reserved for those who want chicken flavor without the moral dilemma), and it's equally delicious. At five bucks a pop, even if the translation is offputting, it's definitely worth the gamble. Buen provecho.