Archive for May, 2009

Adventures in Wallet-Stealing

Allow me to pose a series of bitter questions to the miscreants who thought it would be good sportin’ fun to steal my wallet right out of my bag on Friday night. (Admittedly I left it hanging over the side of a chair BUT it was within my line of vision the whole night.)

Really?!? Really. You really stole my wallet and decided to head over to Bed Bath & Beyond at 2 am? Really? Then you went to the ATM and attempted to withdraw the $30 I had in my checking account? WITHOUT A PIN NUMBER? Really?

Then, when you were fully stocked on BB&B’s finest 10 thread count sheets and Yankee candles, you decided to make a quick getaway by spending 2 hours at the Econo Gas, swiping and re-swiping my card to “make sure it worked”. Well? Did it work? NO THAT’S RIGHT IT DIDN’T. You fuckers. Thanks to you, I spent the lovely sunny Saturday on the phone with the knuckleheads at Chase bank, repeating my name and my address over and over and over again until I was so sick of it I considered changing my name and moving.

Way to steal the brokest girl in the world’s wallet. That was just the gross, wrinkled, dried-out cherry on a poop-flavored sundae. Covered in dandruff. And mustard.

Would part Deux

This is going to be a running theme in this blog, I hereby declare. I’m going to list and detail and pick apart all the chefs I Would. Up in this episode is Jamie Oliver, the puckish and loquacious hippy dippy chef who caught my eye several years ago as I flicked though the dredge that is late-night TV.

The man’s obvious joy to have lucked out and created a happy, food-centric life for himself is palpable as he eagerly washes lettuce, unroots beets and carrots, and finishes all his sentences Britishly with “yeh?”

The first time I saw him was on his intial Food Network show, The Naked Chef, back in ’99 or so. And no, he’s not NAKED ON THE SHOW. That’s not why I watched it okay? The “naked” part refers to Oliver’s preference for clean, unprocessed foods and dishes made with home-grown herbs, farm-bred meats, and as few artificial ingredients as possible. Oddly, he and my mom have quite a bit in common as they both actively campaign for the abolishment of unhealthy foods in public schools and are adamant proponents of the organic food movement.

Admittedly, one of the other reasons I’m fond of this little British sprite is that he’s married to a woman named Jools. Despite the rebellious spelling of this name, it endears me to him even further, as do the names of his children: Poppy Honey, Daisy Boo (c’mon!), and Petal Blossom Rainbow. I love it when couples have so many children of one gender, you just KNOW they’ve been trying for a boy since day one.

Staying true to his working-class background and upbringing, Oliver strives to provide underprivileged youths with the chance to earn a living in the service industry with his now-global charity-based restaurants, Fifteen.

Philanthropic AND passionate about food AND a British accent? I’m snapping my fingers in a Z-formation, which I hear is the “street” way of expressing disbelief.

Soosh!

Every neighborhood has one: that one kinda meh sushi spot that nevertheless always has at least a 30 minute wait between Thursday and Saturday nights. Round about my way, this joint is Cafe Sushi. Situated cozily on the corner of Wells and Evergreen, Cafe Sushi (or Geen, as it has been nicknamed among my crew. This is short for GENIUS) is BYOB, which means the zoned-out waitstaff doesn’t even blink when you roll in, six deep, packing individual Sapporos and multiple bottles of sake. They’ll amiably provide your table with all the accoutrement required for sake bombing, and smile absently as you pound the table, sending cups of sake splashing into glasses of beer. Sure, you’ll probably get dirty ass looks from the snobby Old Town yuppies at the next table, but I’m sure if you salute them with your next round of bombs, they’ll grumpily accept your presence.

Now, I cannot vouch for the freshness of any of the fish served here, but I have yet to get food poisoned *knock wood* so I can only venture to guess that, at the very least, it’s kept frozen enough to keep germies at bay. The menu, extensive yet somehow also limited, is your standard sushi joint fare: edamame, gyoza, miso soups, as well as a lengthy selection of maki rolls, most of which are inexplicably named after US cities. My personal go-tos are as follows: the Miami Maki, a real face-stuffer that boasts crispy tuna tempura snuggled alongside avocado, cucumber, lettuce, and masago, served with a tangy ponzu sauce. Next up is the Snow White Maki, a good solid one-biter topped with super white tuna–my ultimate favorite–accompanied by red tobiko and shrimp tempura. Usually, Spicy Tuna is always a good standby, but CS’s has a bit of a weird flavor and doesn’t stand up to the best Spicy Tuna Maki in the city.

For all you non-sushi eaters (freaks), Cafe Sushi does offer the usual chicken and salmon teriyaki dishes, as well as some random shit called katsu that is described bafflingly on the menu as “fried cutlets.” Mmmmkay…

Which reminds me, coming up on the FDL agenda: MK.

Stay tizzuned.

Would

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I totally Would Tony Bourdain. I mean, look at this fuckin’ guy. The man is pure sex. I would sop him up with a biscuit. He’s tall, lithe, seemingly untouched by years of hard drugs and fattening foods…I just want to lean against a brick wall and share a cigarette with him, asking question upon question until he grabs my hand to shut me up…..

ANYWAY. T.B. has been my guru since my college boyfriend introduced me to his 2000 book, Kitchen Confidential. I ate that shit up with a spoon, savoring every acerbic, biting anecdote and seamy detail of the various kitchens Bourdain labored in over the years. BJ’s from the waitresses, lines of coke in the dry-storage freezer, all while soaked in alcohol and heroin. GOD YES. I want to be just like him. Or I wanna be on him. Potato, potahto.

He followed up KC with A Cook’s Tour in 2001, then released The Nasty Bits, as if he sensed that his two previous rehashings of his years as a drugged-out, sexed-up line cook just weren’t enough for his ravneous fans. Let me just assure you here that Bourdain is indeed a classically trained chef, having graduated from the CIA in 1978. He’s not some bum off the street who decided that a chef’s hat would be a nice change of pace. This man can, and does, cook his ass off. He worked his way through the ranks at Brasserie Les Halles in NYC, eventually making himself known in the culinary world as a kind of prodigal son of punk rock chefs; establishing himself as a persona and a brand before branding onself was “in”.
Now, this guy is not your average Food Network star (though he did have a show on the increasingly bland food channel, pulled off the air in response to viewer’s Puritanical outrage at his filthy language and unabashed sexual innuendos). He doesn’t specialize in anything in particular, and has nothing but disdain for your Rachael Rays and Emeril Lagasses and their watered-down versions of accessible cuisine. Instead, Bourdain circles the globe on his Travel Channel show, No Reservations, his lanky body awkward and obvious in places like Thailand and Japan, a collossus surrounded by Lilliputians. He eats chicken sashimi, still-beating cobra hearts, and downs cow’s blood like shots of Patron, all between drags of a cigarette and sarcastic commentary on his awareness of how he sticks out like a sore thumb.
One of my favorite foodie stories involves Bourdain and Thomas Keller, executive chef at the very chi-chi, very exclusive, very expensive French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley. As a nod to Bourdain’s fondess of ciggie-butts, Keller served Bourdain a 20-course tasting menu, the midpoint of which Bourdain was presented with a “coffee and cigarette” course consisting of a tobacco-infused coffee custard with foie gras mousse.

I’d lick the bottom of his kitchen Crocs for just fifteen minutes with this guy, picking his brain and letting him regale me with stories from the “seedy underbelly” of life in the back of the house.

Bruni Out at NYT

I know I tend to write somewhat solipsistically; banging you poor readers over the head with my opinions over and over, my likes and dislikes, the mysterious ups and downs of my appetites and tastebuds, all of which I’m sure only I care about. But I thank you for humoring me, friendsies, because I’m taking an outward turn in todays post to spread the news of the departure of the epic and venerable Frank Bruni from the epic and venerable NYT restaurant beat.

Bruni is known for his exquisite writing and his ability to draw out and expound upon the fragile variations and combinations of food, atmosphere, and service that make or break a restaurant. Lacking food-oriented credentials, Bruni was a skeptical choice according to the editorial staff, and one that many predicted would come back and bite the managing editors in the ass. After many years of award-winning journalism in San Fransisco, Washington, D.C., and and Detroit, Bruni had proved his journalistic chops and was hired at the NYT, though not covering the gritty, twisted beats he once had in his previous posts: he was brought on as the NYT’s new restaurant critic.

Restauranteurs and chefs alike regarded a positive review from Bruni to be the word of God himself; every star bestowed upon a Bruni-reviewed restaurant eagerly collected, polished, both proudly displayed and subtly flaunted.

One of my favorite things about Bruni’s writing is his ever-so-subtle but really actually not-subtle-at-all sexual innuendo when describing a dish, a vibe, a scene. I totally understand where this inspiration comes from, as the act and circumstance of eating is itself so intrinsically carnal and base that it can be directly equated with sexual acts, objects, or urges.

Sure, Bruni had his detractors; embittered food writers who had slaved for years, underappreciated and unnoticed when they poo-pooed a restaurant, scoffed at and teased when they gave a thumbs-up. The ire of these depreciators lay, as I mentioned above, in the off-putting fact that Bruni had ZERO food background. His area of expertise consisted of the kind of nitty gritty, tug-at-the-heartstrings work, the the kind of work that makes dedicated, dyed-in-the-wool journalists drool and pant over. The switch to restaurant critic was, to some, a step back.

For now, I look back on Bruni’s body of work and his weird, sexually-tinged reviews with the awe of a budding food writer amazed at the fact that someone with so little food knowledge can build such an appetizing journalistic empire. I also anxiously await his upcoming book (hilariously titled) Born Round: the Secret History of a Full-Time Eater, expected out this summer.

Herbacious Liasons


Getting sick of my punny titles yet? No? Good.

Allow me to introduce my distaste for the herb pictured above, the odious cilantro. Growing up, I remember there being a certain taste that I had a distinct aversion to; a sharp, toxic, biting flavor that showed up when my mom made Mexican or Middle Eastern food. I could never really pinpoint or articulate what exactly this ingredient was, or why I felt like coughing or gagging every time I consumed it. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college when my roommate and I had somehow stumbled across the topic of cilantro in the course of our Adderall and Diet Coke-fueled late night conversations. “It tastes like toxic soap,” she said, scrunching her face up in distaste. BING! A lightbulb flicked on over my head, the heavens opened up and a choir belted out that ubiquitous note of revelation. YES. She had hit the nail on the head.

At first I thought myself a freak, an outcast, a (God forbid) picky eater due to my aberrant distaste of anything containing cilantro. Then, as I did a little research, I uncovered communities of like-minded individuals similarly committed to shaking the poor, hapless masses out of their cilantro-induced stupor and alerting them to the error of their ways. This happens to be one of my favorite anti-cilantro websites, a pseudo-revoultionary, almost politically-tinged dumping ground fervently devoted to “supporting the fight against cilantro.” Its commenters submit missives chronicling their hate of the herb, likening it to anything from burnt rubber to industrial stripping solvent, to my own association, “toxic soap.”

The site reads almost like a community of outsiders desperately happy to have found common ground in cilantro hate, commiserating in their shared sense of freakishness in a cilantro-centric world. Further research on my part unveils a very scientific reason behind the strong divide between lovers and haters: genetics. Apparently, there’s something in my genetic code that predisposes me to absolutely hating cilantro. I blame you, mom and dad.

Okay, okay. Maybe I’m being a little too vehement here, giving you the impression that I’m prone to fits of rage every time a cilantro leave crosses my path. Not true, not true. I’ve grown increasingly more attuned to the depth and earthy flavor it can bring to certain dishes, especially when combined in a salsa containing mangoes, onions, guacamole, and beans. That tang that is so indicative of a cilantro presence would be missed if left out, leaving the concontion slightly bland and one-note. I admit to a love/hate relationship with this herb, and one that has grown from complete and utter disdain and avoidance to a more wary, shifty-eyed tolerance, as if we’re ex-lovers trapped in an elevator together, unspoken tension simmering beneath the surface.

I don’t TRUST you, cilantro! But I will tolerate you in small doses.

Cinco De Cero

De Cero (oh excuse me, De Cero TAQUERIA) isn’t much to look at from the outside: just a few tables and umbrellas, a bench or two, and servers bustling from to and fro. Upon entering the West Town Mexican joint, however, your eyes are drawn to the warm wooden accents, communal tables, and tiny, intimate bar at the far lefthand corner of the space where couples sip the De Cero House Margarita as they wait to be seated. It’s loud in this bitch, so loud that A. and I had to wait outside to be seated because we frickin’ couldn’t hear each other. I feel like An Old saying that, but it’s true.

Anyway, upon being seated we were presented with menus, printed on brown paper and bound with an opaque white cover and twine. Our server, a strangely manic fellow with an inexplicable mullet/rattail hybrid and a pretty sweet compass tattoo on his forearm, immediately offered us chips and salsa. Sure, why not! was our answer, unaware that we would be charged like 7 bucks for the appeteaser. It did come with some mouth-heatingly spicy red salsa, along with a smoother, slower green salsa and some sort of bizarre carrot/onion/pickled jalapeno combo.

The server and I (we never got his name, rookie server mistake numero uno) had a little miscommunication thing going on the entire night for some reason. Nothing I was saying was reaching his ear holes. I asked for my margarita “blended,” and this launched a good three-minute back and forth shouted conversation:

“ON THE ROCKS?”

“No, blended.”

“LEMON? WE DON’T HAVE LEMON MARGARITAS.”

“No man, I said BLENDED.”

“OH, YOU WANT IT WITH LEMON?? WE CAN PUT A LEMON IN IT.”

“Ohmygod, I said BLENDED.”

“WHAT? ON THE ROCKS?”

Finally, having almost resigned myself to a lemony, rocky margarita, he got my drift and flitted away. J. and M. joined us, after accidentally getting sidetracked at some weird other De Cero, on the opposite side of town.

It was only after we each ordered our own individual margaritas that Mullet/Rattail Hybrid suggested we “save money” and order a pitcher. Veeeeerrry sneaky, M/RH. Maybe you’re not a rookie after all. We took his belated advice and went with a pitcher of the ruby-hued Hibiscus Margarita, which was a bit too sweet for my tastes. I preferred my first choice, the BLENDED De Cero house margarita, the glass rimmed with huge grains of salt. (Whoever can name that movies gets a prize.)

De Cero’s menu is quite extensive, and it took all of a few minutes to get our bearings. We debated back and forth between getting our own meals, sharing small plates, sharing big plates, storming the kitchen, etc. Because the menu lends itself to being communally appreciated, it was the table’s decision to go with the combo platter of 8 tacos, each of us choosing two we particularly wanted. See what we did there? Four of us….8 selections…we each pick two…MATH! It’s an amazing thing.
I knew my pick almost immediately: one ahi tuna taco and one skirt steak. I’m a serious sucker for anything ahi or ahi-related. The menu promised me the ahi would be grilled medium-rare, but it was on the very medium side of medium rare. A little pink in the center is perfection, but these bits were essentially cooked through and through. Wrapped in a warm, floury tortilla, the ahi tuna was complemented by chunky mango and habanero salsa. My skirt steak was heaped with potatoes, onion, cilantro (my distaste of which I’ll get around to in another post), lime, and chipotle mayo; a far more flavorful combination than the gentle, milder ahi tuna selection. The steak was cooked medium rare and was easily chewable, so I didn’t have to feel like I was wrenching each bite away from the taco. The onions were abundant, so much so that when I grabbed a handful and put them to the side, there were still a good three or four bunches to spare. Potatoes, not something I’m used to sprinkling on my tacos, lent a starchy, almost earthy taste to the dish, balanced out by the sharpness of the cilantro and the tang of the creamy chipotle mayo. Because I’m a bit of a clumsypants (in addition to a hungrypants), I had a hard time ensuring all my ingredients stayed within the floury confines of their tortilla. Bits kept jumping ship out either end, bouncing off my plate, and onto my lap. I can’t exactly fault the restaurant for my inability to control my food in adult manner, so I luckily remembered a lesson my father taught me when I was a wee one struggling with my first soft tacos: fold the bottom into a sort of pocket and just eat from the top, rather than trying to attack the thing horizontally.

M., going on a suggestion of a relative, had the duck tacos. Braised with sweet corn salsa, the duck tacos disappeared almost instantly and the only comment I could get out of her was a thumbs up and a vigorous nod of approval.

J., claiming she was outnumbered in terms of fish-eaters to meat-eaters, staunchly stood by her decision to get the BEEF TENDERLOIN TIPS taco and totally copped my steez by also getting the skirt steak. The beef tenderloin tips were braised in mushrooms, tomatoes, and cilantro, incorporating an almost Italian flavor profile to an otherwise fully Mexican dish.

Ahi tuna and shrimp were A.’s picks. The battered shrimp was nestled inside the tortilla, accompanied by some devil’s herb and a silky avocado cream sauce. That one was gone before I could say “heycanihaveabite?”

I wish I could say I’d sampled everyone’s dishes, but that damn appetite of mine has yet to be restored to its former glory. In fact, I could barely finish my skirt steak taco and had to pawn it off on to J.’s plate. womp womp.

Dessert, ah, dessert. Dessert is never something to be trifled with or done half-assedly. My instincts were to keep this meal as authentically Mexican as possible by ordering the flan, which promised to be topped with fresh berries and sounded pretty delicious. However, we appeared to have some flan-haters in the group *coughcoughAnniecoughcough* so the second option was a guava cheesecake placed atop a crispy almond cookie and drizzled with caramel and crema sauces. People, never put a plate of cheesecake down in front of four girls and expect to hear anything but silence or perhaps a few satisfied moans. We were intently focused as we devoured the smooth, dense, slightly fruit-tinged confection and scraped the last remaining bits of caramel and crema off the plate with our forks, practically dabbing up the crumbs of the almond cookie with our fingertips.

My one issue with the seating arrangements at this place is the fact that the chairs line up nearly flush with the table legs, making it extra hard to maneuver the chairs away from and towards the table without excessive scooting and wiggling. A friend of ours happened to stop by our table and in my hurry to greet him with a hug, I was trapped for a few seconds as I unwedged my chair from its death trap between the legs of the table.

I have to give mucho snaps to this place for maintaining its quick-paced atmosphere without making its patrons feel rushed or overwhelmed. Inevitably, because it was Cinco de Mayo, we waited a good 30 minutes for our main course. I can’t say this is standard practice at De Cero, but it does seem to be the kind of place where one focuses less on the speed of service and more on the assemblage of people, sights, and tastes.

I’d avoid this place if you plan on getting any kind of action in the 24 hours after eating…I woke up the next morning and could have peeled paint with my onion breath. And YES, I brushed. Twice.