Thursday, October 25, 2007

Burgers & Cupcakes

We got burgers at our neighborhood Mitchel London Burgers & Cupcakes a few weeks ago.

They make excellent burgers cooked to order with a bunch of optional toppings. On this last visit I put together a bacon, avocado, and cheddar burger. It was awesome.

The thing that made it so awesome was that the thick cut bacon wasn't really thick cut bacon. Instead it was crispy bacon lardons. They're probably left over from the catering side of the business, but that doesn't detract from their essential awesomeness.

We also got a side of onion rings and fries. They were okay. Mabel tried their homemade lemonade which was inexcusably bad. I don't think it was an isolated incident either because I got lemonade at their adjacent pizza place last night and it was just as bad. Oh well, you can't have it all.

Last night I picked up a couple cupcakes from them to go.

Their cupcakes are as good as your typical cupcake, namely, fantastic! They seem to be of the cupcakes-as-vectors-for-frosting school.

Burgers & Cupcakes
458 9th Ave (btn 35th and 36th St)
New York, NY 10018

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Elusive White Truffle

Dave and I have tasted black truffles, but we've never had the opportunity to try a white truffle. That's why we got really excited about the idea of giving each other half a white truffle (i.e. we'd just buy one whole truffle) for Christmas this year. It was brilliant - we figured we'd pay maybe $150 or so and we'd finally find out what all the hype was about ("This is one mushroom we are not going to wash," he declared). Our excitement was short-lived; we went to the Dean and Deluca website and found out that one ounce of white truffle costs...get this...$500! It was insane. The black truffles were more along the lines of what we were expecting - $165/oz - but the white truffles were astronomically more expensive.

We discussed the situation. We figured that perhaps we could just buy a truffle shaver ($25) and hang it up as a symbol of one day being able to buy a white truffle. Or, we rationalized, perhaps it was for the best because walking out of Dean and Deluca with a $500 truffle in our pockets might not be the safest (What if we get mugged by a crazed foodie?). In any case, we shelved our aspirations for tasting the white truffle until the day we might run across some restaurant that might have it in their menu.

One day I went to Buon Italia, one of my favorite stores in Chelsea Market, and found this:

It was one ounce of white truffle butter made with 20% real white truffle for $15. The sign said that one ounce of this butter mixed in pasta would be good for four appetizer portions. I bought some fresh pasta and we gave it a try:

We could taste the pasta and the parmesan cheese we dusted over it. But try as we might, we could not ferret out any sort of flavor or aroma beyond the fresh pasta and the butter and cheese we had folded into it. We ended up adding a bit of black truffle salt to the dish.

Oh well - we'll just keep our eyes peeled for the next few months as the truffle season approaches. Until then, the flavor of the white truffle and the reason it inspires truffle-mania (Truffle Riches Drive Men to Secrecy, Crime in Italy) will remain a mystery to us.

And I just found this article with an update on this year's truffle situation: The Italian Job

Skylark, Red Hen Bread, Gen Art open bar, and Erwin

This is a miscellaneous Chicago post.

Right after getting picked up at the airport, Dan took me to Skylark to get a quick drink and a basket of tater tots.

The tots came with 3 sauces. The crowd was a mix of young Chicago-style hipsters and older people getting dinner. The first thing I noticed, though, was the cigarette smoke. There's no smoking ban in Chicago. No no smoking. Bars are smoking. It seems strange somehow.

The next morning, we headed to Red Hen Bread to pick up something for breakfast.

This place reminded me of Amy's Bread in New York. There were these perfect-looking baguettes that I never got to try, but I'll get them when I move here.

After breakfast, we went to Millenium Park and got a tip that there was an open bar in the area.

It was under a large tent in the park and was sponsored by Gen Art for Chicago "Fashion Week." Anyway, it was ridiculous. Chambord had a bar set up promoting their cocktails, Bailey's was making smoothies, and there was a miscellaneous bar with Johnny Walker Gold. They were also giving out free SmartWater and Chipotle was giving out free guacamole and chips. Admission was an email address. It wasn't crowded at all. I love Chicago!

We got Sunday brunch at Erwin. It was fantastic.

Ben and Daniel got Eggs Benedict. The eggs were right and the Holladaise was good. I got trout. Here was the menu description:
rainbow trout
wood grilled with green tomato jam, eggs your way, country potatoes and multi-grain toast

Even though it looked like all you got was grilled wood, I decided to take a chance and was pleasantly surprised. I usually try to keep my expectations low for brunch, but with places like Erwin I guess I should start to expect more.

2149 S Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60608

Red Hen Bread
500 W Diversey Pkwy
Chicago, IL 60614

2925 N Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60657

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Lao Sze Chuan

Last Saturday Daniel took us to Lao Sze Chuan.

This is a really good Szechuan place. I think this is Dan's go to Chinese restaurant. We got Tony's Chicken, a sliced pork dish, a tofu dish, and Pea Pod Leafs. Tony's Chicken was like large popcorn chicken with an extra kick.

The Pea Pod Leafs were beautiful and tasted fresh and simple.

Daniel thought the restaurant was BYOB only, but they ended up having some wine and beer. We brought wine, and they didn't charge us a corkage fee. The wait looks like it could be 30 minutes, but we sent Azusa up front and she charmed us to a table right away.

Lao Sze Chuan
2172 S Archer Ave
Chicago, IL 60616

Lula Cafe

Daniel drove us all to Lula Cafe on Sunday.

I love this place. Well-priced and not too crowded with good, simple, well-prepared food. It's the kind of place I wish could exist in New York.

Everybody's pasta was fantastic. Both Azusa and I got spaghetti with this spicy bacon sauce. Ben and Daniel got white sauce linguine dishes that came with these wonderful toasted bread crumbs. We shared a side of beets that were simply and well prepared. The wine was inexpensive and delicious.

Lula Cafe
2537 N Kedzie Boulevard
Chicago, IL 60647

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Chicago Hot Dogs

I went to Chicago last weekend to see Dan, Ben, and Azusa. My secondary mission was to sample Chicago hot dogs.

I was able to check out three places. I think they were fairly representative. One of Azusa's friends in Chicago, Leann, said that you basically want a Vienna all beef dog. It also seems that the Char Dog, or grilled dog, is the way to go. Toppings were typically pickle, tomato, relish, onion (grilled or raw), mustard, sometimes ketchup, and celery salt. The last two places I went used a poppy seed bun which was nice. The celery salt was an interesting addition that I've never heard used on hot dogs, and it's something I'll try using when I grill hot dogs in the future. Whenever I could, I got everything on my hot dog except for ketchup.

I ate my first Chicago hot dog at Hot Diggity Dog. We passed by on our way from free drinks in Millenium Park to MoCA (which ended up being closed).

I got a boiled hot dog with pickles, tomato, relish, and mustard on it. And a malted chocolate shake. I don't think I've ever had a malted shake before but it was awesome. It was like drinking a liquefied box of Whoppers.

The second place was on Monday--the day we all left--near Daniel's apartment.

It's called The Wiener's Circle.

This is where I got my first Chicago char dog.

Everyone loved the boardwalk-style fries. Out of the three places, The Wiener's Circle was the best overall hot dog and eating experience. Daniel and Gwen are very lucky to live in the neighborhood.

And the final place was at Gold Coast Dogs in Midway Airport on my way back to New York.

I got a Jumbo Char Dog here.

All in all I would say that Chicago hot dogs are a fresher, brighter style of dog. It was sort of weird having an entire pickle wedge in the bun, but it's good eats. As far as Chicago dogs being the best hot dogs in the country, I would say that that's comparing apples to oranges. Personally, I prefer the bacon-wrapped hot dogs from street carts in the Mission area of San Franciso, but it's clear that's an unfair comparison.

Hot Diggity Dog
251 E Ohio St
Chicago, IL 60611

The Wiener's Circle
2622 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60614

Gold Coast Dogs
Midway Airport Food Court
5700 S Cicero Ave
Chicago, IL 60638

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Wu Liang Ye

After getting burgers, we headed straight to MoMA to see Apocalypse Now Redux. It was a ridiculous 3.5 hours long so we headed straight to dinner afterwards. We were in the neighborhood of some of the midtown Chinese restaurants and decided to check out one of Lei's recommendations, a Szechuan place called Wu Liang Ye.

We got Double Cooked Fresh Bacon with Spicy Capsicum, Shredded Camphur Tea Smoked Duck with Spring Ginger, and Sauteed Stringbeans with Yibin City Spiced. I think we came on an off day. That might explain the mixed reviews on The bacon was a little too much in that I felt like I was going to have a heart attack while I was eating it. I usually have a pretty high tolerance for fat. The duck tasted good and smoky, but it seemed like it had been sitting out for a while. Like it wasn't really freshly cooked. The stringbeans were fine, but I could only think of the ones that we had from Grand Sichuan International which I liked better. Overall, the cooking was missing a certain something. Maybe it was that wok taste. There was none of that.

I'd like to come back on a non-Sunday when it's a little busier to see if things are any better. At the very least, it is much better than typical take out.

Wu Liang Ye
36 W 48th St (btn 5th and 6th Ave)
New York 10036

Monday, October 8, 2007

Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien

Yesterday I took Mabel to Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien Hotel.

I had a dream about trying to eat here a few weeks ago. I was trying to take my brother there, but it was Sunday, and it was closed. So I guess you could call it a nightmare. But in waking life, it is not closed on Sundays.

Anyway, Burger Joint is a hole-in-the-wall burger place located behind a curtain in the lobby of a fancy hotel.

I have no idea how this arrangement came to be. It's a bit surreal.

The burgers are very good, but I would say that they aren't worth a special trip. Mabel wants to add that they are really good burgers, better than Shake Shack. The fries are fantastic fries. I would go out of my way to eat those.

Burger Joint
Lobby of Le Parker Meridien Hotel
118 W 57th St (btn 6th and 7th Ave)
Access from 56th or 57th St
New York, NY 10019

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Japanese sake from Japan

A couple weeks ago we had the sake that Priscilla gave us from her trip to Japan.

It was sort of exciting to drink because it was from Japan, even though pretty much all sake is from Japan. But it's different because someone brought it over on the plane. Instead of drinking Japanese sake, we were drinking Japanese sake from Japan. I know that's ridiculous, but the meaning of it feels a little different.

I have no idea what's it's called because I can't read Japanese, but it was refreshing.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Mamoun's Falafel

We capped off our Saturday with a falafel and lamb shawarma at the Mamoun's on St. Marks.

We passed by Chickpea on the way. They're still going with the baked. Mabel wanted to shake our fists at them, but we decided against it. Instead, I think I grimaced at it and spooked some of the people inside.

Anyway, at Mamoun's it was only $2.50 for the falafel. It's hard to criticize anything that's only $2.50, but it was only an okay falafel. Still, it was 1,000 times better than Chickpea so we were happy with it.

Mabel thought the shawarma was really good, but I thought the shawarma was just okay too. It was meat, so it tasted good, but it wasn't out of the ordinary.

The most memorable thing at Mamoun's is their iced tea. It is excellent.

Mamoun's Falafel
22 St. Marks Place
New York, NY 10003

Trader Joe's Wine Shop, part two

We stopped by Trader Joe's Wine Shop on the way to the Greenmarket on Saturday to order three cases of wine.

We got two of the Charles Shaw Merlot and one assorted case of mostly cheap white wines. Like $4 cheap.

I'm planning on using a lot of red wine in my cooking this fall and winter, so that's what prompted it. Also, we figured that the $15 delivery charge would be more worth it if we bought in bulk. It was nice getting delivery. The wine beat us back home.

The salesperson that helped us out was really good. When I asked for an inexpensive dry white, he said, "Under $5 or under $10?" He suggested pretty much exactly what we were looking for, then described a few other choices a little outside our range. He was pretty much the ideal wine saleperson.

While we were checking out, Mabel overheard someone at a nearby register ask for a student discount. That would be awesome.

Previous Trader Joe's Wine Shop post

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Saint's Alp Teahouse

Mabel and I got bubble tea at Saint's Alp Teahouse after seeing The Darjeeling Limited.

They have good bubble tea. Mabel got taro with milk and I got green tea with milk, both with tapioca. They have these mechanical shakers, so everything was frothy and mixed well.

Service is pretty bad, but from negligence not malevolence. They forgot to bring us an order of toast, but seemed genuinely sorry when they figured it out as we paid the bill.

Anyway, the taro tea was much better than the one we got the previous weekend at an Egg Custard King Cafe in Chinatown. The one at Egg Custard King tasted like cereal milk which might not be a bad thing, but it wasn't quite what Mabel was looking for. The one at Saint's Alp tasted good, but not in a cereal milk kind of way.

Saint's Alp Teahouse
39 3rd Ave (btn 9th & 10th St)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 598-1890

Monday, October 1, 2007

Quick stop by Union Square Greenmarket

We stopped by the Union Square Greenmarket right before the movie, just to browse.

We came across some late season peaches. I was smelling one of them when the farmer came by, picked one out of his bucket, and said, "Here, try this one."

It was the best peach I had this year, which I guess isn't saying much, but still. Anyway, what a good salesperson. I bought half a dozen and ate all of them by the next day. It was sort of a mixed batch. Half of them were good, the other half were mealy and a bit dry. Mabel was really excited by the peach pies they were selling and bought one.

But the real find of the day was a huge celeriac weighing in at 2 lbs 11 ounces. Patricia Wells says that a medium one is typically 1 lb.

It is sort of the Charlie Brown of vegetables. Actually, it somehow reminds me more of the baby from Eraserhead.

We also picked up some handsome cherry tomatoes.

Union Square Greenmarket
17th St and Broadway
New York, NY 10003