Top Tastes: New York 2015

Kirstin and I spent a glorious week in New York last summer eating, going to shows and ogling our favorite drag queens and snuggling up in our micro hotel, Yotel (which frankly, I highly recommend). It’s taken me almost a full year to share the highlights – but better late than never.

1. Teamonade at Veniero Pastry

The very last day of our trip we were IN VAIN hunting for a delicious, hot, soft pretzel (apparently that is not something you can find in New York on a Tuesday unless you buy a shitty one from a street vendor) and at the point that Kirstin was about to explode with frustration I managed to walk us into Veniero Pastry. Visiting Veniero’s is like going back in time partly because everyone working there is 60+ and partly because it is the type of pastry shop that no longer exists. There is nothing twee about this place, it is no-nonsense. After gaping at the to go counter which featured five yards of miniature cannoli and cream puffs, we seated ourselves in a gilded room with the giant menu. We ordered and ate a number of EXCELLENT items, but the standout was Teamonade. Lemon sorbet with iced tea. Get in my life. This combo is one I intend to replicate this summer and can’t believe I lived a whole thirty years without.

IMG_43762. Salty Pimp at Big Gay Ice Cream

This dipped cone is LEGENDARY and made for a truly profane experience on a muggy New York afternoon as little could contain the ice cream from oozing and squirting. This cone met and exceeded all my expectations and is an item that is worth eating on every visit. My waistline is grateful that there are 2,862 miles between me and the Salty Pimp on most days.

3. Sweet Corn Ravioli at Jean Georges

Kirstin and I splurged on one very fancy lunch at Jean Georges preceded by a long walk at Central Park. I was VERY unhappy with the table we were seated at (I presume due to our youthful joie de vivre) as it was located up against a wall and next to the kitchen entrance which meant there was a steady stream of servers hustling past throughout the dining experience. However, the food was excellent and ornate, if a little cold at times, all of which is to be expected. The standout dish I labeled as transcendent which tickled Kirstin to no end. The Sweet Corn Ravioli were light and bright in flavor, dressed in basil butter and a sweet tomato salad. Each bite was a little burst of summer flavor at its finest. It was the only thing we ate where we’d wished we’d ordered two.

IMG_44024. Gravlax at Russ & Daughters

In the category of foods on my must eat when in the vicinity list is Gravlax at Russ & Daughters. Kirstin and I ate bagels and lox at a different place on a different morning, and while far exceeding anything we could get on the west coast, they still did not measure up to Russ & Daughters. Part of what makes Russ & Daughters excellent is the experience of ordering in their tiny, packed shop and taking in the varieties of lox, smears, dried fruits and chocolates as well as breads, bagels and more. Russ & Daughters is a destination and a favorite of Tina Fey (per a shout out on Thirty Rock). Not to be missed.

Honorable Mention

1. Crudite with Boiled Peanut Hummus at Danny Meyer’s Porchlight Bar

My first introduction to boiled peanuts was in Texas when a friend of mine cracked open a can and sat on the couch eating them with her fingers. I could not get over the texture and added it to the list of things you only see in the South. This Hummus though was SO delicious (and provided a vehicle for much-needed vegetables) that I’ve bought two cans of boiled peanuts on Amazon since returning home to replicate the dish.

2. Creme Brulee with Sour Cherries and Marzipan at Jean Georges

I’ve eaten more creme brulee in my brief lifetime than I care to admit, but this one is among the top ten. The addition of marzipan and cherries at the bottom made this classic feel new and fun.

3. Cheesesteak with Broccoli Rabe

The very first night we arrived very late and went out around 12am or 1am for dinner. A block from our hotel we ducked into a bar serving philly cheesesteaks and my heart started to thump because this was a COMPLETELY UNRESEARCHED SELECTION! And as you know I hate to waste a meal. Much to my delight – the cheesesteaks were not only excellent but interesting to boot. I ate steak with broccoli rabe and it satisfied my need for vegetables and for delicious fare. I’d go back and eat it again.

Never Again

1. Lobster Roll at Red Hook Lobster Pound

The Lobster Roll from Red Hook Lobster Pound was on my list for TWO New York trip cycles. I was thrilled on this trip to finally be able to try their lauded Lobster Roll and I learned the following: a) it is nothing special and b) I don’t think lobster is worth the high price point. Maybe Lobster isn’t for me, or maybe one should just eat it in Maine. When I eat Lobster in Maine someday, I’ll let you know.

2. Fika

Fika is of course near and dear to my Scandilicious heart and I LOVED tucking into their cardamom scented pastries on a previous New York trip. You can imagine my delight on this visit to find that Fika locations had popped up all over the city including next to our hotel. We stopped into Fika on a number of mornings and I don’t think expansion has done them any good. Our food and pastries were sub par to say the least and even with a commitment to all Scandi foods everywhere, I don’t think I’ll go back to Fika.

3. Fancy Corndogs i.e. I hate Horseradish wd-50

Kirstin and I both eagerly anticipated our brunch reservation at wd-50. Wylee Dufresne is a veritable God of modern molecular gastronomy and we were PSYCHED to see how those influences played out. What we found was a restaurant that felt rather dated or common – waiters in striped french aprons, glass bottles of water on the table, wood and rot iron paneling bar features. Perhaps we’ve dined too much in Seattle or perhaps Seattle is a thief but nothing about the wd-50 dining experience felt special or unique. In addition, the dish I was MOST excited about, chinese sausage served as miniature corn dogs, came with horseradish sauce. I hate horseradish. I pride myself on liking and trying most things, but try as I might, I can’t get over horseradish – all it does is make me want to gag. So overall, wd-50, a disappointment. I did use this disappointment as a justification for a second trip to Shake Shack for a summer corn dog special. But are multiple trips to Shake Shack so wrong? SEATTLE Danny Meyer, SEATTLE. It’s a happening spot, just saying.

Kippis!

 

Lessons from Portland, the city that doesn’t want to serve you

Recently mom and I went on a little mom/daughter trip to Portland and spent forty eight hours doing whatever we damn well pleased, which was mostly watching Project Runway, chatting about everyone we know and eating.

My parents have a joke with some friends that Portland is the city that doesn’t want to serve you because you wait a long time for EVERYTHING, EVERYWHERE in Portland. You wait to be seated, you wait for drinks, you wait for someone to take your order, you wait for your order to come out, you wait for your bill – you get the picture. And while this theory didn’t stand up in every situation – it did apply to the vast majority of our dining experiences.

An exception to the rule was Imperial where we ate the first night because I heart Douggie. While service was slow – but acceptable to us as we were taking our time, we were seated right away partly because unlike many other locations in Portland, you can make an actual reservation. We learned three important lessons.

  1. Grilled meats should be cut at an extreme angle with a serrated knife. Mom & I were seated at the Chef’s table (see number three) and were able to watch incredible grilling/smoking action up close and personal. Although neither of us ended up ordering any grilled beasts – we did watch a number of plates come together. Every steak, chop and chicken breast was cut beautifully at a deep angle with a serrated knife and then placed on top of necessary sauces, sides, etc.

    Imperial Flank Steak photo via OpenTable

    This is how all grilled meat should be cut always and forever, it is most beautiful. Now, every time something comes off the grill at home I cut it a la Imperial and Matt rolls his eyes. But even with a healthy dose of skepticism he agrees meat looks better cut this way.

  2. Pickled Watermelon rind = big thumbs up, smoked then pickled mushrooms = big thumbs down. Enough said.
  3. OpenTable offers valuable insight on guests if the host would only bother to use it. I consistently rant and rave (wait till I get my New York post finished) about being seated at TERRIBLE tables in fine dining establishments due to what I can only assume is ageism and my inexplicably youthful vibe. When I’ve made a reservation you can be assured of two things ONE, I really want to eat here and TWO, I’m going to spend some money. AND YET I am consistently seated at the tiny uneven table next to the bathroom and service entrance. However, at Imperial – we were assigned one table by the host, then after a quick glance down at what I can only assume is my OpenTable profile – he said, “no, wait – seat them at Chef’s Table.” I don’t know what it says in there but I wish more hosts paid attention to it.

The next morning Mom and I waited almost two hours to eat at Broder Nord. We had little else to do that day except make it to Powells and a movie – so didn’t mind so much, particularly because the food was epically delicious and epically scandinavian (is my bias showing?). A few important take aways here though:

  1. Dark bread and smoked fish should really be the staple of every breakfast. Imagine how happy and healthy and productive people would be if this is how they started their day? Just saying.
  2. Just order the Swedish Breakfast Bord. Anyone who’s spent any time in Scandinavia will be immediately and happily transported back by this excellent and authentic spread.
  3. Do not take your family of five to brunch at a restaurant in Portland that is über hip, über Portland and über unwilling to take reservations. We watched a family of five from Boston literally melt down waiting to be seated at this tiny, slow restaurant. At the point Mom and I were starting to get antsy (and were still 20 minutes away from a table) these folks were told it would be another hour and a half. Chaos ensued. Make good food and vacation choices people.
  4. Will someone please invest in a Scandinavian place in Seattle? I’m available for consultation.

Our final major meal was another brunch at The Woodsman Tavern, which is a little off the beaten path and takes reservations (in Portland….whaaatttt???).

  1. Pickled collard greens are delicious. I never, ever thought I would want to eat pickled collard greens but seeing them on the menu served alongside shaved ham, blueberry jam and a cheddar biscuit – curiosity over took me. The entire ensemble was delicious and great compliments to one another. Pickled collard greens for breakfast = thumbs up. Smoked then pickled mushrooms = still big thumbs down (they were really awful).
  2. Everything hip is noisy and I’m tired of it. I loved the food on this menu, I loved the feel and style of this place and I HATED the noise. Top offenders in Seattle include Crow (although the pictures I am seeing now show big plushy curtains – so improvements perhaps) and Oddfellows. I am not sure why modern restaurants feel the need to drown their guests in the presence of exceptionally live space, but there are some ways to mitigate this – not the least of which is FOAM under ALL HARD SURFACES. Does it feel a little weird when noticed? Yes. How many people will notice? Not many. Will everyone hear the people at their tables better and have a generally more pleasant meal? YES. Worth it. Foam. Take it under advisement.

Of the three, Broder is the only place I must eat at again  – if accompanied by very patient companions. We just scratched the surface of the city that doesn’t want to serve you. Looking forward to the next round and future lessons. Who’s with me?

Kippis.

Do’s and Dont’s of Disneyland Dining

I do a lot of Internet research. On, well, everything. I trust I come by this honestly because whenever I eat dinner at my parents at the end of the evening my dad succumbs to his ipad to conduct his own obsessive hunting on the items rolling around in his brain (often home goods or vacation rentals). For me this takes the form of food research usually on the odd Saturday where I am alone and find myself still in my pajamas surrounded by empty cups of a tea and a glowing screen at 3pm.

However, these searches are far from futile. They produce excellent results and lists and pins galore that can be recalled wherever there is cell service for researched, pleasant and successful changes of plans. Many a glorious trip or purchase are the fruits of these many hours, and for me that is satisfaction. The research extends the pleasure of the moment and I like being able to escape to my plans, trips and desires on a regular basis.

Last fall all Internet efforts were trained on Disneyland for a trip I was making with my sister for her bachelorette party. I was planning (because I must) but wary of over taxing my sister who perhaps rightly finds plans a bit stifling. So like a cat waiting to pounce on a ray of sunshine I made many plans and waited for opportunities to act on them. Most importantly, I planned food.

There are many sources on the Internet for what to eat in Disneyland. I read them all and I think I owe it to the Internet to add a few RAHRAHRAHS for my favorites and to call BULLSHIT on some of these “must eat” Disneyland items. Fine dining, not included. That is a WHOLE other story. Stay tuned.

DO EAT

Trader Sam’s: Trader Sam’s is straight fun for adults. It’s a restaurant theme park for complete with water effects. I fouOa-Ah Special Effectsnd this very charming, but I also grew up post Trader Vic’s popularity so the whole Trader Sam’s Tiki vibe is fun and kitschy and not some weird throwback for me. However, be warned there are a number of throwback individuals in this bar feeling their oats so to speak.

I found the signature Uh Oa! drink (intended for four) to be positively charming with it’s table side flambé and sound effects. It also was a damn good drink – rum, tropical juices, lime, cinnamon, astoundingly not too sweet. For the sake of transparency I should mention I was the only one in my party of five who liked the drink (however I was also the oldest member of our party, draw what conclusions you will about refined pallets)…but on the other hand, as the only one who truly liked the drink, I drank the majority of the Uh Oa! (served in what can only be described as an Easter Island soup bowl)…so my perception may be a touch addled.

Everyone did agree the Panko-crusted Chinese Long Beans lived up to their reputation as delicious and worth the walk to Trader Sam’s. We ordered these as part of a Pu-Pu Platter that included a slaw and wings that exceeded expectations. I’d go back to Trader Sam’s for the Pu-Pu Platter (and the Uh Oa! OBVS).

Matterhorn Macaroon: I am skeptical of white chocolate as a general rule (why? why? I just don’t understand why) but the Matterhorn Macaroon convinced me that white chocolate does have a place in pastry (jury is still out on whether it has a place in salads). The macaroon itself is dense, toothsome and avoids the cloying sweetness of many of its brethren. This treat is something I will seek out on all future trips to Disney and if they ever start carrying decent tea the whole experience could be quite transcendent.

Corn dog: Although this was the longest line we waited in over a three day stint in Disneyland, this dog was worth it. The sweet corn batter crisped up perfectly and provided an appropriate batter to dog ratio – better than any corn dog I’ve had to date (and I, well, really like corn dogs). I almost had an aneurysm waiting behind someone who ordered ten (they are made to order…so…) but the other girls talked me down. For your own sanity, expect a wait.

Ghirardelli Sundae: When the bar at Ariel’s Grotto was too full, our group went to the San Francisco Wharf at California Adventure for late afternoon ice cream and margaritas. I’ve never been to San Francisco so this is as close as I’ve come to Ghirardelli Square. The Ghirardelli Sundae is simply excellent. They extensive sundae menu (YES SUNDAE MENU) is sure to meet even the pickiest of sundae needs. The sundae looks as good as it tastes and will likely draw margarita goers off of their tequila – that’s how delicious we are talking.

DON’T EAT

Churros: Simply put these are not special churros. Everyone, everywhere on the Churros and EarsInternets says these are special churros. They are not. They are like any other churro except you eat them in mouse ears.

Dole Whip: I consistently read that the Dole Whip is like pineapple soft serve, which sounds INCREDIBLE, no? However, the reality of the Dole Whip is much more sinister. Your first clue that Dole Whip is not all that it is cracked up to be is the cavalier nature in which this supposedly frozen dessert does not melt. That’s right, DOES NOT MELT, which one would think means IS NOT FROZEN, but no – the dole whip defies this paradox. See ingredient list for reasons why. It would be one thing if the Dole Whip really were outstandingly delicious in which case I could overlook its other questionable attributes (Cheez-Its fall in this category for me), but alas, the Dole Whip does not. The Dole Whip leaves a lingering sting of pineapple and chemical sugar in the back of your throat. Suggested alternatives are the pineapple juice, delicious and still comes with a tropical paper umbrella and the Carthay Circle Coconut-Pineapple Semifreddo,what Dole Whip should be; light and tropical.

Mickey Ice Cream: Here is my fundamental problem with this bar; the chocolate Mickey Ice Creamshell is too thick, to the point you think you may lose a tooth or two. I realize this is to prevent mess amongst children, but for adults who like to get after frozen treats the fortress of chocolate shell is a bummer and potential dental risk. Shell out a few extra bucks for a Ghiridelli Sundae people. Worth it.

Pumpkin Beignets: I was so pumped we would be in Disneyland in the fall so I could eat not only a Mickey shaped Beignet but a PUMPKIN Mickey Shaped Beignet. My expectations were not met. The gummy beignets arrived a bit cold and the pumpkin flavor did not stand up to the level of zeal expressed far and wide across the all knowing Internet. A little bit of canned pumpkin does not a delicious beignet make. However, sitting in the 10am sun listening to Disney-fied Jazz music while the elderly band leader threw beads at us, was great. Go for the Jazz, skip the beignets, something I would never say of true New Orleans.

Kippis!