Archive for the ‘*Hua’ Category

Top 5 Food Moments of 2007

December 24, 2007

Manolha Dargis says (in her own top 10 list of films of the year), “Top 10 lists are artificial exercizes, assertions of critical ego, capricious and necssarily imperfect.” Well, how about a Top 5? Can that be any more meaningful?

Sure, why not– I think that Top lists are a fun way to exercize your brain, reaching back into the crevices of your memory to sift through the last 365 days. It’s pretty incredible actually– in terms of food, the possiblilities are endless. I asked UM contributors to send over their Top 5 Food Moments of 2007, where anything goes– meals, restaurants, kitchen accessories, ingredients, books, films– essentially, whatever they wanted to include (whether they had blogged it or not). I assure you that this is no easy task, but here they are.

1. Alan Wong’s 7 course tasting menu with wine pairing (is there even any doubt that this was the meal of the year???)
2. Chez Panisse kitchen tour
3. Draeger’s Cooking School!
4. United States of Arugula (so what if it was published in 2006)
5. Bodum Assam glasses (A housewarming gift from Kayoko, great for everything from coffee to ice cream)
The Top 5
5. Hudson Valley tomatoes.
4. Macallan 25.
3. Leeks.
2. The lunchtime burger at Prune.
1. Everything at Laduree.

The Bottom 5
5. That asshole waitress at Sushi Yasuda who browbeat my mother.
4. That asshole waitress at Sushi Yasuda who browbeat my mother.
3. That asshole waitress at Sushi Yasuda who browbeat my mother.
2. That asshole waitress at Sushi Yasuda who browbeat my mother.
1. That asshole waitress at Sushi Yasuda who browbeat my mother.

1. The Next Food Network Star (Season 3) – the surprising last-minute resignation of JAG, and the upset victory of Amy over Rory. this was truly must-see tv.

2. The rise of the “localvore” / eating locally.
3. Stacy’s pesto and sun-dried tomato pita chips – not sure when they came out, but in 2007 I began eating an entire bag everyday.
4. My dinner at Brown cafe, which included the best wine I’ve had all year: 2004 Castello della Paneretta Chianti Classico.
5. Jonathan Gold’s Pulitzer Prize – the first time the prize has been given to a restaurant critic

1. Spicy Mina
2. Sushi of Gari Omakase w/ dad
3. Wu Liang Ye’s Double Cooked Fresh Bacon ** With Spicy Capsicum
4. Go Go Curry w/ Mel & Kakabori
5. Spicy & Tasty Dan Dan Noodles & Sauteed Pork

1. Green tea chocolates from Tafu
2. Republic of Tea Wild Blueberry Black Tea
3. Konbini on 47th
4. Watermelon flavored hi-chew
5. Mochi Maker!!!!

OK the thing about me is that I am not just interested in the moment of consumption, but the process of getting there, and the event of the eating. I went to a lot of fancy restaurants, oyster bars and the like this year, but in the end, they don’t make a lasting impression on the heart stomach. So I would say my top five most memorable food experiences of 2007 were:

5. What about those awesome lunches at work, the series of home-cooked lunches made by JS co-workers, from Yamahomo’s beef tongue stew, to Futoshi’s curry, and my own Yum Woon Sen! Loved the sharing atmosphere and cut down on lunch costs too!

4. Oh wow definitely the Umamiventure to the Red Hook Ball Fields. That was hella fun NY summer activity! So much to experience, so many different foods, so many fun people, the great weather, the soccer, awesome times.

3. BEST RESTAURANT of the year for me was Aurora in Williamsburg. I went there this year for the first time, after hearing about it from others and it was amazing. Beautiful space, especially if you get the garden during the warmer months, nice rich wood interior and reasonable prices for delicious foods: octopus, hand-made pastas. A very close second would be Cafe Falai on Bowery. Loved the menus in the envelopes. yum yum yum.

2. Tmonkey and I did a colon cleanse together in the autumn, as our romantic activity. We kept track of our bowel movements and physical changes down to the finest details and shared these with each other. It was a fascinating process of fasting that stripped down the cycle of appetite -> consumption –> digestion, and realized that so much of what we experience as hunger is psychological. After 5 days of fasting my skin was clear and beautiful and I felt terrific – AND amazing things had come out of my body. O Boy. I also learned that what is as important as the fasting is how your BREAK the fast. I f*cked this up royally, but will make sure to pay more attention to this when I do the 10-day fast in the spring.

1. Helping to create and eating the ultra-thin million layered lasagna made by my dearest Tmonkey — just divine!!! Kayo was there too!

5. Mozza, Batali’s new eatery in LA. Went out to LA on business, had a friend whose boyfriend was the bartender there, and thus got the royal treatment. Incredible grilled octopus. Amazing amaro tasting flights at the end, free because amaro is apparently not legal in the states.

4. There’s nothing scientific about my selection methodology for this btw — I’m just picking food moments that actually lodged themselves in my brain. One of these moments was when I was in Guadalajara last month, my friends there took me to an open market (well it was covered with a roof, like Essex Market) and sat down at this stand where this young guy was cooking up a storm and I asked him what I should order, what their specialty was, and he hooked me up with this dish called “chafaldrana”, which was basically this seafood quick stew (tomato based) with tilapia (I think), octopus, scallops, and shrimp served with rice, onions, slices of tomatoes, tortillas, and these cute little mini-avocados. It was made “a la minute” right in front of me. I got it on tape — will upload pics and vid soon. Amazingly fresh and delightful.

3. Thousand Layer Lasagne: I was inspired by the recipe on to make this lasagne which requires you to roll out fresh egg pasta dough into incredibly thin layer. I usually don’t make recipes like this (which warn you that a super-herculean effort is required) sight unseen, but Aya made me do it. Actually it turned out to be pretty fantastic, but I’m wondering how much of it was because of the incredible amount of blood, sweat and tears that went into the making of it. I think you can taste those things.

2. Another Mexico moment: I was in Jalisco, the state where Tequila comes from. It was a few hours from the Pacific coast, and my friends took me to a lake called Santa Maria de Oro, which was surrounded by mountains on all sides. There was a lone restaurant at the base of the lake, and pretty much the only thing they served was chicharrón de pescado, which is basically fried fish, which I presumed to be from the lake itself. It came with a pink-ish colored mayonnaise, cucumbers and tomatoes, and tortillas, which made me realize of course, that these were actually fish tacos!!! Amazing ones, at that. Again, I’m sure the ambience had something to do with my memory of this — perfect 80 degree weather, eating them after I had kayaked out to the middle of the lake and swum in the perfectly warm, clean water. Yeah…

1. When Aya and I were doing our week-long colon cleanse, I experienced delusional hunger pangs, fantasizing about various random foods (the most hilarious was when we were in the subway standing next to a dumb Arnold’s bread ad with a ham sandwich and Aya looked at me and intoned with a zombie-voice, “Ham sandwich….”), but near the end I couldn’t get my mind off Franny’s wood-fired oven pizza. So the first real meal we had after coming off of the cleanse was there, and chalk it up to delayed gratification and wish fulfillment, but damn if we didn’t have a bacchanalia that night (grilled octopus, sausage pizza, orichiette, and for dessert…ANOTHER pizza — our waitron did a double take when we ordered that one). I count that as a double dinner, and any double dinner should be memorialized in my book.

1. Dinner at the Core Club prepared by Dan Kluger and pastry chef Rob Fitzhenry

2. Dinner on the house at Maremma, courtesy of the amazing and wonderful Cesare Casella.
3. Olive oil bon-bons at the James Beard Awards

4. Cooking Thanksgiving dinner in Santa Barbara in Aunt Janet’s ocean front kitchen.
5. My 1st shoot for the NY Times Dining section, The Kingswood restaurant, NYC.

Runners Up:
– Wylie Dufresne’s presentation at the Star Chef’s Congress, NYC.
– Blueberry picking in Vermont
– Jack’s Saturday morning brunch while listening to “This American Life” (below)

1. Sripraphai Umamiventure, all the way. Those drunken noodles were just out of this world, and I still dream of the fried watercress salad. Tmonkey and Ayagwa’s inspiring video immortalized the meal perfectly. It was one of those amazing meals where every single one of our 10 or so dishes were delicious, and, despite the fact that many people were meeting for the first time, we all left feeling as we were eternally connected through this one meal. Now THAT is the power of a good meal.

2. My meal at Taverna dei Consoli trattoria in Assisi, Italy. I was alone in the city for a night, and the hotel man recommended the place in the piazza. I never did figure out if this joint was what he was talking about, but it’s where I ended up and had the best dinner of my trip. They were about to close up shop but they indulged my hunger anyway. Fresh pasta with porcini mushrooms and a pork chop in a balsamic and prune reduction. Ooh la la. I went back for lunch the next day and had the same! This year, I learned to appreciate eating out alone, which is something I never did before. There’s something really meditative about it.
3. Lunch with Jose, Marta and her family at her apartment in Madrid. Nothing like Spanish homecooking— albondigas and boquerones filled with love.
4. Introduction to Shanghai Cafe by Tmonkey. It was love at first bite. Cravings for these incredible soup dumplings haunt me at all hours of the day– their steam, their scent, the marriage between crab and pork dipped in a vinigary concoction (the key: the crab does not dry out the way they do at Joe’s Shanghai, or any other “venerable” soup dumpling establishment). My dream meal is an order of the dumplings, and their lo mein, which are really thick udon-like noodles. It is by far the restaurant I frequented the most this year.

5. My chicken bag!

Runners up:
– The secret sea side shack Ayagwa introduced me to at Rockaway Beach
– Fresh northwest oysters and the cute bartender at the Seattle Airport
– The sardines from Don Quixote Restaurant at the Atlantic Antic street fair
– Leslie and Alex’s 4 hour wedding meal at Osteria Le Logge in Siena
Vintage Pyrex mixing bowls I bought from Yamahomo
– The “best cappucino in Italy” cafe in Roma

Aside from my top 5 (er, 11), the launch of this blog was perhaps the most meaningful food moment for me this year. I look forward to a plethora memorable food moments in 2008– too much for me to blog I am sure! Thanks to everyone for reading, contributing and commenting in UM’s fantastic first year.
Happy, happy holidays to you and your family, and always, happy eating!


December 14, 2007

-Capone-N-Noreaga featuring Tragedy, “Stay Tuned”


(I have never seen this many people on Main Street, circa 2007)


“The Thai spot in Beacon” is conveniently located next door to the “Thai grocer in Beacon,” and on this night I ended up there after thwarted attempts to buy records (the Goodwill on Route 9 had just tossed them all out; though I did get to see a woman try and stuff an irrationally huge, SUV-sized bouquet of balloons into her compact) and go to the museum (the Dia: Beacon closes at 4pm, apparently). So I placed my order and walked over to the grocer to kill time. There were no other customers, and behind the counter sat a five-year-old girl who could barely see over the register. She nodded ‘sup and returned to the glow of her small (but weirdly proportional) television. I bought a bottle of fish sauce, out of guilt, and admired the knives hanging on the wall.

So there I was, carefully nestling two containers of takeout within a womb of old blankets, when I realized: I live 45 minutes away from one of three passable Asian restaurants in the Hudson Valley. The other two: “the Indian spot in the deserted strip mall in Fishkill” and Hokkaido in New Paltz. Forty-five minutes is: about fifty pages of a good book; a not unsubstantial amount of gas; a great conversation; Nas’ Illmatic; an entire episode of Gossip Girl (coincidentally, Dan and Jenny’s mom lives in Hudson).

I was thinking about this earlier tonight while watching Jeffrey Steingarten, Marc Ecko and the guy with the glasses judge Iron Chef America, as inferior a Transpacific translation as Shall We Dance–save for the moments when Jeffrey Steingarten has to talk to Marc Ecko, and Ecko says something “makes him cry like Beaches.” Nobody got the joke and so Ecko proceeded to flail about, kind of like this

and buried his head in his hands, sobbing. The guy with the glasses played along, lamely, and “hugged it out, beach.” Steingarten muttered: “Get a grip.”

I’ve always felt that the American version of the show is awful because of the judging. The Japanese original features guest judges from all walks of life (teachers, television presenters, athletes, dignitaries, etc.), all of whom express the awe we as viewers feel when we witness a master compose a five-course meal exploring the multifaceted wonders of the Burdock root. IN AN HOUR. You’ve got to be kidding me! I can’t even drive to Beacon and back in an hour.

Instead, the American show version traffics in self-important food critics (like the one guy with the Pearl Jam-casualty hair and uncomfortably gleeful laugh), celebrities who aren’t technically famous and that one woman who works in something called “food public relations.” The judgments are drained of awe, the judges sober and critical in a manner that can alienate a lot of us who, you know, just like to eat, foam or no.

But watching Steingarten reminds me how I feel about the aesthetic, whether it’s bound as a book or served to me on a plate: taste matters. Precise description matters. The language we employ to describe pleasure should rise to the height of that pleasure (unless it sounds tacky). Steingarten and Ecko both loved the same peanutty dish, but Steingarten didn’t think Ecko really understood why. And sure, it’s academic: “things we like” are ultimately subjective and ephemeral, and there’s no logic undergirding taste. But for the critic Steingarten, one’s taste is only significant insofar as one can explain it.

And so I realized: no, the judging process is fine. Iron Chef America sucks because of the Russian Roulette-like risk of having to hear Bobby Flay say “Chipotle” every third or fourth episode.

Initially I thought moving out of New York would be devastating, eating-wise. But–and here begins the What I Did At Summer Camp portion of the post–there are many wonderful things about the Hudson Valley. This tomato, for example:

Isn’t that a lovely tomato?

The afternoon I bought it I couldn’t stop palming it, winding-up and practicing my two-seam fastball grip, tracing all the little valleys and creases and dimples.

Of course this was months ago, before the Ice Age came and made fresh produce as scarce as episodes of Food 911 where Tyler Florence flies somewhere to help out a dude. You know what I’m saying.


“You will notice the relationship these people have with their corn. They stand there in the grocery story, de-husking their corn. It’s what they do. These people and their corn.” –A colleague, on the little league thrills of Smalltown, USA corn consumption


I had a very strange meal one night at The Artist’s Palate, one of the one or two outstanding restaurants in Poughkeepsie. It is located on Main Street (pictured above), next to the Muddy Cup, a Hudson Valley franchise that seems to believe that people really, truly, deeply, subconsciously desire coffee shops the size of football fields.

I started with a foie gras appetizer, as is my habit, and it arrived with a tiny, poached apple. It tasted like a normal poached apple, only it was tiny. This was the only picture I could find on the Internet that didn’t involve a “tiny Apple iPod.” I cannot confirm that this woman’s hands aren’t grotesquely large; you’ll just have to accept that apples the size of ping-pong balls exist.

So that was strange. I love miniature things, but the miniature apple seemed a little suspect. Why not an adult apple? Or was this an appetizer meant for a five-year-old?

(These are breadsticks. I have no idea why, but they bring the breadsticks out, packaged, about 2/3 of the way into the meal.)

For my main course I had a…miniature chicken, stuffed with rice and mushrooms–very small mushrooms. All that was missing: “micro greens” and a tiny, thumb-sized aerosol can of foamed celery, or something. If you look carefully, the tiny chicken is resting on a bed of baby bok choy.

Not to scale…or is it?

The chicken was plump and juicy, the stuffing slightly gritty but a great contrast. I found the broth and bok choy irritating–it was meant to signify “Asian,” but it was an over-loud way of doing it.

After dinner, I ordered an Americano. Which, in most parts of the world, means a shot or two of Espresso and about 12 oz (or more) of hot water. Instead, the Americano arrived…in one of those Espresso shot cups with the teasingly minuscule handle. It was a shot topped with a splash of hot water. And it, like everything else, was a miniature. I believe it was a mistake, as my friend’s Macchiato arrived in a Friends-style big ass cup.

Confused, I looked around the restaurant to see what other people were eating. Across the way, there sat the five-year-old girl, still unsupervised, making headway into a Porterhouse.


July 16, 2007

On the way home just now I spied a kidnapper van boasting that it contained “JOSE’S BAGELS.” It struck me as odd that a commercial bagelsman–in New York of all places–would stick with his given name of “Jose.” Absolute Bagels, for example, does not advertise itself as “SOME THAI PEOPLES’ BAGELS.” (note that the worst thing that can be said about AB (according to yelp) is that it has a drab exterior.)

Upon reaching my apartment just now, I emptied my pockets and discovered an assortment of items–remnants of a weekend spent trailing out-of-town friends-since-the-third-grade. It was like Memento, only with a completely staged photograph:

“If memory serves me correctly,” Saturday night was dinner at Morimoto. Despite the fact that his website compels you to listen to mediocre music, I have a great admiration for Morimoto; if it is possible to un-ironically state that you have a favorite Iron Chef, then Morimoto is by far my favorite Iron Chef. His restaurant, a hair north of the Metapacking District, is a monstrosity of concrete, glass and heavy chairs that seems airlifted right out of Las Vegas. Every diner’s dress seemed to signify some kind of readymate identity (“banker,” “normal everyday striver,” “prostitute,” etc.). Our four split three appetizers: a “Morimoto sashimi” plate, a selection of sashimi slabbed atop chunks of Buffalo mozzarella and Rock shrimp tempura dredged in wasabi aioli and a spicier but not all that spicy Buffalo hotwing sauce. All three were okay but lacking in subtlety. The stylish Morimoto sashimi plate featured miniature tiers of fish, but the top layer of smoked salmon crowded out all the other flavors. The sashimi with mozzarella was much better than it sounds, yet the union of two seemingly disparate textures/tastes didn’t yield any facemelting epiphanies–it tasted like sashimi and mozzarella should taste, Hegelian it was not. The tempura was warmly received, yet my friend’s zealous endorsement that it was “like popcorn shrimp” reminded me that it was supposed to be delicate, flaky and tempura-like, rather than “popcorn shrimp”-like.

For my main I had a dish called “Duck, Duck, Duck,” which featured a duck egg, a duck leg done up Peking style and a roast-duck sandwich. “Dude, wouldn’t it have been cool if there was a goose component, so it would be like ‘Duck, Duck, Goose?'” That would be sweet. And you know what? Morimoto is like three steps ahead of all of us. The sandwich featured cuts of roast duck nestled within a foie gras-infused croissant. “W h o a … so there is goose in there somewhere!” Yes, one could get lost in the language of “Duck, Duck, Duck,” just as one could spend eons speculating about what it means for a bagel (made by Asians, no less) to be absolute.

“Duck, Duck, Duck” was incredibly rich, yet I didn’t leave the restaurant uncomfortably full. Nor did I think of it as decadent, until the next day, when three people observed that “Duck, Duck, Duck” sounded “decadent.” I do not remember what I had for dessert.

I have little more to say about the meal at Morimoto. The croissant was infused with foie gras. All croissants should be infused with foie gras, even if you can only taste it retrospectively, after the check arrives.

* * *

Let this be a lesson for Jose’s Bagels: Morimoto is not called some Chinese name or some Italian name. Because if someone else tried to pull off “raw fish with cheese” or “Peking duck menarge (sic),” it probably wouldn’t have worked. Sometime it’s all in the name.

Gramercy Tavern made up for its somewhat drab, two-strikes name by supplying me with a very fine, eminently recommendable smoked trout and then the nicest rack of veal I have ever had. Even twenty minutes into the rack the veal had maintained the buttery, meltysoft texture it had when it arrived. The veal was flanked by morels, peas and Swiss chard–a flawless combination. I had a tiny cube of someone else’s lamb, which was delicious as well.

An unexpected highlight of Gramercy Tavern was its dessert. I had the apricot tart, which was lovely, and a cup each of the Ethiopian and Costa Rican coffees. The Ethiopian was unfathomably good, with hints of cinnamon, cardamom and orange. It would go well with this:

An admission that even an excellent meal can’t possibly be worth the cost of multiple rare Jeru singles, GT provides diners (sometimes? always?) with the next morning’s breakfast. In this case: brown sugar coffee cake. I’m not sure that it will be worthy of the Autobot-like protection I have offered it over the past few hours. I tasted a bit of its crown, and the novelty of brown vs. non-brown sugar was not enough for me to think, “Wow this is like the ‘Duck, Duck, Duck’ of breakfast foods!” This was confirmed when I explored another pocket. Out dropped the following:

Two pens, in case one goes dry.

A dollar–of the many withdrawn, the only one to make it home safely.

And a pad of paper. The most recent page:







July 3, 2007

As today is the 4th of July in some parts of the world, I think it is important to reflect upon the gains we have made as a human race. And, as such, I am exercising my freedom from having to carry a camera to every restaurant I go to. Instead, I have drawn you a picture:

Things I learned during my dinner at wd~50:

Zach Braff is either a stoner or pretends to be a stoner in order to throw kids off his true, d-baggish scent. An anecdote was relayed: it involved peanut butter. (The interpretation is mine.)
-Sometimes a tear in the wallpaper isn’t meant to be a commentary on modern life.
-A helpful waiter can make a meal.
-“Molecular gastronomy” is not a Jeru the Damaja song.

wd~50 is Wylie Dufresne‘s super-scientifical lab-slash-restaurant down in the Lower East Side. To a gourmand, this means that Dufresne embraces the techniques and possibilites of “science” in the kitchen, “science” denoting something other than intuition, feel, “received wisdom,” etc. At a more basic level, it means that chefs will do weird things like dunking strawberries in liquid nitrogen, frying up butterscotch pudding and serving mayo in sugarcube-form. Blah blah blah, Welcome to 2003, Hua etc.

As we entered, a man waiting for his date overheard our eagerness to try the “wild South Dakotan quail pureed, then reconstituted into the shape of a virgin rabbit, then baked underneath a high-wattage desk lamp, and then infused (by a vintage syringe only available in Algeria–in 1952) with the flavor of a wild North Dakotan quail, all bathing in the juice of a speckled beet, topped with a dollop of gold foam.” Instead he recommended the “Wagyu flat iron with coffee gnocchi, coconut and sylvetta.” I confirmed that he was not an employee of the restaurant and decided to take his suggestion. It was apparently the first night this dish had appeared on the menu, and Dufresne was actually in the back, preparing it himself.

I began with the “foie gras, mole lentils and quince yogurt,” pictured here:

I have eaten an unhealthy amount of foie gras over the past three weeks, and while this was good, it didn’t quite melt my face. Parts of it seemed a bit sinewy, and one friend observed that it was slightly “iron-y”–she then confirmed that she meant “iron” as in taste, not “irony,” or the utter relativity of all tastes. But the point, I guess, was to take the foie gras along with its complementary parts–a bed of lentils and an artful little gradient of Quince yogurt. The pairing of the yogurt’s soft and refreshingly tangy sweetness with the aggressiveness of the foie gras was perfect, and the lentils were so delicate and flavorful. S and A shared the “smoked eel, blood orange zest, black radish and chicken skin,” which was even more incredible. Our fabulous waiter explained that the chicken skin was made into a mousse. I have no drawing to illustrate this. But it was both fascinating and delicious. As I used one of the outer prongs of my fork to dissect my bite of eel, I recalled that the problem with a meal like this is that one is forced to examine and obsess over every tiny little shard of food. Then again, I suppose this reminds one that s/he is alive, too.

For my entree I chose the Wagyu flat iron. Or rather, I pretended like I knew what it was. I figured (correctly) it was some form of beef, though the possibility always loomed that it was “beef cured and dried into beef jerky form, then fed to a cow, then withdrawn from the second stomach, and then repeated once more, and then frozen, and then pounded into brittle pieces by a chrome mallet, and then melted, mixed with the brow-sweat of a baby pig, and then re-frozen in a diamond-plated ice cube tray, and then served inside a glass of fresh horchata.” Thankfully this was merely conjecture. This is more or less what it looked like:

I got mine medium rare. As a lover of steaks, I was thoroughly impressed: the flat iron was really worth the hype; a tiny teacup tear formed. I have never cut my steak into such small, deliberate pieces before, but I just really had to savor every little pinkish cube. The portion wasn’t intimidating, but it wasn’t teasingly small either. A cloud of foamed coconut fringed the beef on one side, a salad of nearly microscopic arugula fronds, cipollini onions and coffee gnocchi on the other. The thumbnail-sized toupees of onion bore an explosive, almost overwhelming lemon flavor–they were delicious. The coffee gnocchi was interesting conceptually but a bit bitter–it fared better when dredged through the foam, but even then the tastes of the coffee and coconut felt too pronounced paired with a steak. The bites of steak paired nicely with either a dip of foam and embrace of onions, but never both.

The others ordered “Pork belly, smoked yucca, romaine, papaya” and “Duck breast, smoked hen o’ the woods, snow peas, rhubarb.” I had a slice of the pork belly, which was so tender it just seemed to melt. The smoked yucca (mashed into cubes that resembled fried tofu) was tasty as well.

I was really looking forward to dessert. The tasting menu seemed like the power move, but the waiter said that the choices were arbitrary. My fixation with the “Fried butterscotch pudding, mango, taro, smoked macadamia” compelled me away from dice-rolling, and I ordered that on its own. The others ordered “Creamsicle, rooibos, persimmon, orange blossom” and “Yuzu curd, shortbread, spruce yogurt, pistachio.” I enjoyed the delicate inventiveness of the first two courses; not so much for dessert. While all three dessert plates tasted and looked amazing, the moments of revelation–butterscotch oozing from a tater tot; the best lemon curd I’ve ever tasted, resting on a very novel done-and-then-redone shortbread; a perfect orange glowstick that bled cream–weren’t quite necessary. This was sugar. All I wanted was more and more of it.

In summary: a very worthwhile experience. And by worthwhile I mean “worth the cost of a really, really good and rare record.” I wish I could have reported more about other people’s dishes, but this wasn’t the kind of meal that compelled sharing.

Actually this drawing is a lie. It is supposed to look like Parmigianino’s “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” (more here). And just as Parmigianino is actually painting a portrait of himself, the subject of this drawing–the one who refuses to share–is indeed me. I’m usually much better about sharing, but my goodness that beef was simply stunning. Did I mention the sesame flatbread? It was amazing too–and this is FLATBREAD I’m talking about. If that isn’t an endorsement of a meal–“So tasty it will transform a heretofore generous, well-mannered and considerate young man into a hoarder–a hoarder who likes flatbread”–then I don’t know what more to draw for you.


June 21, 2007

I’ve just come back from a brief vacation to Paris and Berlin–I rarely vacation, so upon returning I’ve regaled everyone I’ve spoken to with the dreadfully banal, I-see-the-world-anew!-type minutiae familiar to anyone who has attended college and encountered–in the words of one friend tired of my anecdotes–“that annoying kid who studies abroad for a semester and then starts rolling his own cigarettes.” Well in Berlin we don’t take that kind of negativity! In Berlin everything is magical and wonderful and cheap! Berlin ist great! Really: you must go to Berlin. Blah blah blah (something about Berlin).

In either case chances are I have never met you, and thus all of my minutiae may seem new and exciting.

During my travels I maintained two running tallies.

In Paris: how many people actually walk around carrying baguettes?

The answer was 71 over 4 days.
There was a related question about mimes, but unfortunately I saw none.

In Berlin: how many people were actually doing things NOT damaging to their health?


The answer was three–one man was jogging (I’ve never seen someone so out of place in a city), one girl was carrying a sack of granola (presumably back to her anarcho-vegan-hippie-minimal techno collective) and one guy–yes: ONE–was carrying a bottle of water rather than beer.

The high cost of living in Paris is a constant buzzkill. Visiting the city for the first time taught me one thing, besides the baguette thing: everyone reads the New York Times.

As in:
Hey did you read that steak frites piece in the Times?
Dude I’m going to forward you this steak frites guide, I think it was in the Times!
Oh man, Paris! You MUST go and eat steak frites–I read an article about it in the Times.

So I ate steak frites, but not at one of the Times-approved places, rather at a “place the Times piece forgot about,” according to the Interweb. It had AUBAC somewhere in the name, and it was off the Champs-Elysees, which I now know is merely a wide street. I was originally going to take pictures but I felt self-conscious about photographing food at a restaurant that resembled a tarted-up T.G.I.Fridays (insert: Merci Dieu C’est Vendredi! joke). It was truly odd eating foie gras, as inhumane as it is delicious, whilst surrounded by pastels of skiiers, Soundgarden on the sound system and a flatscreen TV broadcasting a looped movie of cows being raised and evaluated (what could be less appetizing?).

Steak frites may have been common in Paris, but the macarons were a thing of rare beauty. Not to be confused with macaroons–the stringy little plops of coconut available at most pastry shops, or in plastic tubs–the French macaron is like a divine little cookie sandwich consisting of meringue-like halves and a light, creamy filling. Like I knew any of this beforehand.

Here are some pictures from the world-famous Laduree:

I think these are pistachio (incredible), mint (incredible–and limited edition), lemon (incredible) and caramel with salt (incredible). There was one which carried the aroma of rose. Orange blossom was INCREDIBLE. Vanilla and grenadine–consumed with foie gras and a grenadine glaze–were INCROYABLE.

As a lover of variety, each macaron was a treat to be cherished and protected–when some kind of mad woman with an aggressively anti-capitalist tote bag walked in to the Champs-Elysee Laduree (there’s four or five of them) and started ranting and railing, I almost threw my body over the macarons to save them. I believe in nothing but I would sacrifice everything to uphold the deliciousness of these macarons. I scoff at the word “tasty.” Each of the cookie halves have a lightly crunchy shell and a moist but not spongy body–it’s the kind of delicate thing you can’t pick apart and eat Oreo-style. The fillings are never overpowering, often just accentuating the aroma of the cookie. And as you can see in the photo it produces a beautiful color when the cream soaks through the inner part of the cookie. Ach, I can’t believe I’m degrading these macarons by referring to their constituent parts as “cookie” and “filling!” They are so much more. But I guess it would be weird to consume something like “proof of divinity” filled with “miraculous aura.”

Also in the photo you can see the teacup is tearing up at how good that macaron is.

Here are some places in New York that serve macarons. I mean here.

Other highlights in Paris included L’as du Falafel, which I just noticed has been covered by the Times as well. Upon Bite #2, I cannot imagine being satisfied by another falafel ever again (foreshadowing: this was before going to Berlin…). The thick pita–usually a turn-off–was necessary, since the pocket was filled with falafel balls, hummus, pickled red cabbage, eggplant, roasted potatoes and some spicy harissa.

It was so good I nearly decided to start listening to fellow traveler Lenny Kravitz’s awful music!

The food in Berlin was surprisingly great, though nothing made me want to listen to Lenny Kravitz.

A favorite was Nil, a Sudanese place in Kreuzberg. Their falafels and lamb sandwiches are quite excellent. The secret: peanut sauce in everything. I would have taken a photograph of the food, but I had just been chastised by the lady behind the counter for using the bathroom. Apparently in Berlin–a more or less lawless city where (1) clubs stay open “until Monday”; (2) cops apologize to you if you swear at them; (3) graffiti is on every surface everywhere; (4) drinking beer and smoking pot in public are tolerated; (5) trains are free because nobody cares to check your ticket–you need to ask before you use the bathroom. Well excuse me for not knowing German (the national language, actually) and arrogantly walking right past the “DO NOT USE THE BATHROOM” sign.

Everyone in this picture is drunk, on drugs or listens to electro.

Berlin also had excellent pizza and ice cream: I found this surprising. There are also many interesting little semi-legal bars and clubs. Like this place, which featured ping pong and a DJ playing a metric ton of De La Soul:

Insofar as an “illegal ping pong bar” can be unpretentious, this place was. Note the skill: one guy hits sans paddle, another smacks it without dropping a lick of beer.

But this has nothing to do with food.

The only “authentically German” thing I ate was Spätzle, which reduces to “noodles bathing in cheese and butter.” Not a bad thing but not exactly a taste that grows more rewarding with each new bite. We bought three kinds and shared. All I remember–did I mention that Berlin is a lawless, vice-filled city?–is that each featured cheese in a starring turn. One of them had a weird baked top, and one featured noodles that looked like they had been grilled. Some looked like gnarled, oldster fingers; others looked like slender and symmetrical pod-like spaceships.

The first few bites were terrific, but after a while the taste can grow tedious. It’s best to share and to make good progress before things start congealing.

While eating Spatzle, this bemused German dude next to us encouraged us to try Currywurst.

Wikipedia: Currywurst is a typical German take-away dish, a hot pork sausage cut into slices and seasoned with ketchup and generous amounts of curry powder.

One among us remarked that Currywurst sounded like probably the most disgusting thing ever. Another among us seconded that. And the German guy took a drag from his cigarette and said, “Do not be so narrow.” He punctuated this by putting his hands close together, in case we were not familiar with the concept of narrowness.

Perhaps he realized that Currywurst does, indeed, sound like one of the most disgusting things ever, as he changed the topic. “Have you eaten doner kebab?” We had–our favorite was a place called Bagdad, where they smother the fries in this creamy garlic sauce and kids in tight jeans throw electro parties.

“I have been here all year,” the second among us explained. We were not new here.

“In that case,” he laughed, “the question becomes how many kebabs you have had to eat!” And with that he rolled up his copy of German GQ, strapped on his shoulder bag and was off–presumably to do drugs or drink in public or ride the train without paying or regale his friends with banal minutiae about three Americans he met at the Spatzle spot.