Next stop on my Asian adventure is the storied city of Bangkok. I expect spicy street food galore, a trip to a kitschy floating marketing, stunning temples, and a major food-gasm at the city's Or Tor Kor Market. Will take plenty of pictures!
If all has gone well on my 22 hour flight, I am now ensconced in a glorious hotel room in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, overlooking the Petronas Towers. And, I'm going to pay call on my Asian foodie friend extraordinaire Adlyn. Stay tuned for a full report when I'm back in Brooklyn!
Most of you are thinking - India by way of New Jersey? Queens' Jackson Heights or Manhattan's Curry Hill, perhaps - but NJ? Yes, NJ!
The Edison/Iselin area has one of the fastest growth rates of Indian population in the Western Hemisphere. So, when I needed to purchase an outfit for a wedding in India, I hauled my ass to New Jersey. Got a gorgeous teal and gold salwar kameez and matching bangles, but after shopping I convinced my friend Sandra that a stop at Jhupdi was a must.
What is this Jhupdi of which I speak? It is a little mom and pop Gujarati vegetarian restaurant tucked in an unassuming strip center on Oak Tree Road. Up front there is a slip of a store selling Indian sweets, snacks, and various tobacco products, including the popular Indian chewing tobacco called pan -- tobacco rolled with betel leaves, masala, and spices. Who would guess that behind this rather nondescript stall is a wonderful, homey dining room and Alka Patel, a hard-working female chef from India, who's recipes were passed down by her mother and grandmother.
Sipping on an sweet, yogurt-enriched Mango Lassi, examples of Gujariti cuisine made their way to our table, including Samosa Chaat, a flash-fried, potato-filled turnover, smashed and topped with a heady combination of tomatoes, chickpeas, onion, tamarind chutney, green chutney, and citrus.
Then there was Pau Bhaji, a make-it-yourself dish which had us heaping rich vegetable curry onto soft, squishy rolls -- sort of an Indian vegetarian version of Sloppy Joe's.
And, our absolute favorite was the platter of Patra...
...savory pinwheels with a hint of jaggery sweetness laced with ginger and coriander. To make them, deep green Colocasia leaves are brushed with spiced chickpea dumpling dough, rolled tightly, sliced, and then baked. With a light sprinkle of freshly grated coconut, they were addictive to say the least.
The Indian food in India will have a lot to live up to. New Jersey's Jhupdi sets the bar exceptionally high, and a New Jersey Transit ticket is a heck of a lot cheaper than a flight to Mumbai or Bangalore -- or even to Gujarat's capitol of Gandhinagar.
And, in addition to the belief that whole head dining (don't snicker) will become a trend this year, I'm of the mindset that hash will find its way onto menus across this fair land.
The above is inspired by Canada, our neighbors in the North. It is from Brooklyn's Mile End, and sports their famous smoked brisket, diced potatoes, caramelized onions, and two bright yellow, sunny-side eggs atop. Comfort food at its finest.
But, now take a beat and think about the hash combo of Peking duck with sticky rice and Chinese chive. Or how about a hash comprised of pork carnitas, sweet potato, poblano peppers, and cilantro? Then again, could go for a hash of lamb shawarma, chopped pieces of falafel, and sauteed green peppers.
Just put an egg on it.
Not saying that'll be enough to make things right with the world. But after a long march, it might just be the type of soothing pick-me-up to get us back on our feet, ready for the even longer march ahead.
A prediction on the verge of 2017: heads will roll in the new year. Literally, roll into kitchens and onto plates for anxious diners.
The dish pictured above put me over the edge on this forecast. Dining with my pal Gourmet Rambler in Chicago, we dove into a plate of MFK's Catalan-inspired Crunchy Prawn Heads Xato. Chewing, crunching, and slurping out the meat, these lovelies were a revelation.
They made me think about how much goes to waste when we disregard the head.
Cheeks can be a gateway. I'm thinking of the West Village bistro MIMI and its rich, glorious Wagyu Beef Cheeks. I'm reminiscing about Brooklyn Heights trattoria Noodle Pudding and its bright, beautiful Bass Cheek Salad. And, then there is the porky, smokey, Guanciale-packed Pasta alla Gricia, made at home or served at many a fine Italian restaurant across the country.
All of that paves the way for a full-on (or half) head experience. One of my most memorable, is the General Tso's half pig head feast at the meat-rific Cannibal. We're talking about hunks of gorgeous, heavenly, juicy meat accompanied by super crisp pork skin, in a slightly sweet, sometimes spicy glaze.
All I can say, is overlooking the head is to miss a great pleasure. And, I am hoping for great pleasure in 2017.
Sounds simple, but it's not easy to achieve a consistently happy and joyful staff when you're slogging through the mayhem that is the New York restaurant world. I get that. Which is why I'm incredibly appreciative when I find amazing front-of-the-house people.
For example, I recently was lucky enough to sit in Drew's station at Tom Colicchio's Craftbar. He was so genuinely exuberant and knowledgeable about the menu that both of us at the table wanted to take each and every one of his recommendations. (And, yes, he was right about going for the Riesling over the Port for the cheese course!) But, moreover, I want to go back to Craftbar and see him again just to say "hello." Seriously.
I feel exactly the same way about several of the bartenders and waiters at one of my favorite neighborhood spots, Jack the Horse Tavern. Matt, Tristan, Sam, Taj, and Alex all come to mind - and former manager Mackenzie, one of the loveliest, most unflappable ladies I know, is going to be sorely missed.
These are people who might make me cocktail or hand me a burger, but who can also make the day (or evening) a touch brighter though a smile, a bit of conversation, or just a thoughtful - "How are you doing?"
In addition to bartender Tristan at JtH, I have another bartender Tristan who I think is a gem as well. He currently splits his time between Boudoir in Brooklyn Heights and one of my favorite Vietnamese hot spots, Bricolage. He takes such pleasure in his work that it's hard not to form a smile when you put a drink of his to your lips.
That said, I wasn't kidding about there being bumps in the hospitality road. Last night, Bricolage - sans Tristan, who was on Boudoir duty - offered up a major hospitality fail on my birthday. Not going to get into the details, but I don't think I'm going to return unless I'm sidling up to the bar with Tristan behind (or maybe his protege Tyler). But, all in all, the experience did remind me of the importance of front-of-the-house hospitality.
Don't take it for granted. I don't - and tip accordingly.
Yes, the title of this post is all about fries. Not to confuse you, but the photo above is of a French dish - Quiche Lorraine, as a matter of fact - and I fully recognize that it in no way looks like a plate of French Fries. (Not that French Fries are actually French.)
Anyway, I'm offering up this pic of a delicate and delectable individual Quiche Lorraine, so you can see that the kitchen at Charleston's McCrady's Tavern can put out some gorgeous fare. And, this little baby was a humdinger. Shared at lunch with Mama Vamp and her pal Christina, we devoured the beauty alongside Southern staples like Deviled Eggs with Ham and a Fried Porkchop Sandwich.
The star though? One of the ugliest plates of spuds we ever laid eyes on...
Wasn't kidding, was I?
But these were tuber miracles. Fugly potato champs. Lightly crisp exteriors giving way to soft, rich potato goodness.
We had to ask. What the heck made them so addictive?
We half expected our waitress to say "crack cocaine." Instead she detailed the 48 hours of careful prep that go into making these transcendent fries. I recall that dunking in potato starch, par-boiling, freezing, and a second dunk into potato starch were part of the process. In the wake of unbridled potato pleasure, it was all a bit too much to take in. And, it sounded much too complicated to try at home. So, the chefs at McCrady's Tavern need not worry that I'll try to ferret out the recipe. A better plan, I think, is a return trip.
And I stand by the title of the post: I'd venture down South to Charleston for the fries alone.
If you'd like to join me on the journey, drop me a line. But then we're getting two orders of the fries.
I've fallen head over heels for Charleston, South Carolina. I'm sure you're not the least bit surprised.
Brought the grand dame gourmand herself - Mama Vamp - and her fun-loving pal Christina in tow for a gal's weekend. From kicking up our heels at the Charleston Music Hall as The Mavericks ripped up the stage to footing it through the historic homes of East Battery with the Charleston Preservation Society, it was a fine time. And, as an ardent fan of Garden & Gun, I even convinced the ladies to join me as I checked out the magazine's first brick-and-mortar shop to inspect their curated selection of vintage flasks, among other Southern-made goods.
One place where convincing wasn't necessary: any place that offered up food and drink. Seriously. Chowing down and drinking up were priorities. And, I know from experience that if Mama Vamp is hungry or parched, woe is me if I don't pick somewhere up to snuff. Thankfully, Charleston offers up a slew of dining establishments and bars which are more than ready for those with exceptionally high standards.
Extraordinary is a more fitting name for one such spot, called The Ordinary. An old bank converted into a styling seafood restaurant, the place delivered on expertly-crafted Daiquiris that reminded me why they're a beloved classic cocktail, and a sumptuous raw bar that had me at "hello." Mama Vamp and Christina weren't brave enough to try the range of oysters on the menu, but they did gobble up some peel-and-eat shrimp with gusto. And, the kitchen's Jumbo Lump Crab Toast with Watermelon Radish and Lime was a winner, as was a special of fresh mackerel, served sashimi-style, punctuated with thin slices of Castelvetrano olives and bits of sweet orange supremes.
One of the other food and drink stops that drew raves was a funky, casual place called Leon's Oyster Shop. Recommended by my pal Max as a "must do" with Mama Vamp in mind, we knew that although the restaurant had "oyster" in the name that the kitchen brought some serious fried chicken. But, once told we'd have to wait at least a half-hour to get our hands on some bone-in bird, we opted for three Fried Chicken Sandwiches.
We weren't disappointed. This sandwich had it going on. The chicken was moist, crispy, flavorful, and altogether sublime. The roll was soft and buttery, and the vinegary slaw on top was the perfect companion to hold the whole thing together. And, yes, there were homemade pickles strewn atop for good measure.
Still, Leon's does have "oyster" in it's name, so we felt obliged to order a plate of Char-Grilled Oysters.
Yeah. After downing these beauties, I knew right quick why Leon put "oyster" in the name.
Expect to hear more from me on the subject of Charleston. And, I expect to return at some point too. Preferably soon.
Been trying to cut down on the starch as of late and have discovered that Korean food is the ideal Asian fix, when the mood strikes. Yes, I adore me some Bibimbap and the requisite Korean Seafood Pancake -- but truly lust after the fantastic BBQ and all those lovely Banchan.
What are Banchan? A whirlwind of little plates of pickled vegetables, seasoned vegetables, spicy vegetables, and stir-fried fish-focused goodies. The mother of all Banchan? The steaming hot, puffy, bubbling mini-cauldron of Egg Custard.
So. Damn. Good.
My last Korean fare foray took me to Murray Hill, Queens and the 24-hour Hahm Ji Bach for a meat-filled, Banchan-festooned feast. Go. Schlep thee to Murray Hill, Queens. It's the real deal. And, in a pinch, hit one of the fancier Korean BBQ hot spots in Manhattan's Koreatown. Any which way, you'll thank me.
When you get down to it, that's a silly question. The answer is "everywhere."
Trope thought it may be, Buenos Aires is most certainly the bife capitol of the world. The city is a carnivore's wet dream. Rarely is any other type of meat on a menu half as good as the steak. Classic Argentinian steakhouses, known as parrillas, are a mainstay on the dining scene, whether you hit a traditional futbol-memorabilia strewn spot like San Telmo's La Brigada...
...for perfectly cooked short rib roast and old-school waiters, or you venture to La Carniceria for a Flintstone-sized steak smoked or grilled by carne-fixated hipsters who would be as comfortable cooking in Brooklyn's Bushwick as in BA's Palermo Soho.
But beef isn't just found at your neighborhood parrilla. It is found in your corner cafe. And, if you're lucky enough to have your corner cafe be La Rambla in Recoleta, that means the steak is served gorgeously jugoso with any number of toppings on fresh French bread...
This is the Lomito Sandwich of your dreams. And, if you haven't been dreaming of this Lomito Sandwich before, you should start doing so now.
The town is just as fanatical about grinding up its beef, patty-fying it, and serving it up hamburguesa-style. The 45-day dry-aged burger at the Four Seasons Pony Line Lounge is as swell as its surroundings. By BA standards this burger beauty, sitting on a brioche bun showered with broiled cheddar, is a pricey treat - but it's still a great deal less expensive that Minetta Tavern's Black Label Burger.
And, if that isn't enough beef for you, how about putting it into a nifty, baked hand-pie?
Did you think I would forget about all the delectable ground and stewed carne smacked in pastry dough and baked up in Empanadas? No, I did not! Some are better than others, but there isn't a panaderia in the city that doesn't serve up these addictive treats without at least a couple of versions filled with bife.
Of course, it's not that chicken, pork, and even lamb can't be had now and then. In fact, I was duly impressed seeing an entire rabbit section in the butcher aisle at my local Disco supermarket. But, bife most certainly reigns supreme. Red meat and Buenos Aires are a match. Visit, and it's game on.
I realize that Buenos Aires is considered a mecca for meat, but I have been on the hunt for great seafood and fish in this carne-crazed town. It's a tough ask.
Still, there have been some wins - especially Grilled Langostinos, fresh with a delicate sweetness, at San Telmo's exquisite Cafe Rivas. Then there was the shrimp-filled ravioli at Chacarita neighborhood cafe Rita, blanketed with a cream sauce and dotted with bright red roasted tomatoes...
Each bite brought me a bit closer to the sea.
Yet, I get the feeling that these meals were aberrations in BA's bife-obsessed food scene. Most restaurants offer very little by way of seafood and fish. And, while these two dishes were fantastic, they are the exception to the rule.
Case in point: La Mar, the city's Peruvian import, a high-end cebicheria that is on every critics' "must visit" list. It was a total disappointment. The menu had a focus on fish, yes, but they drowned most of it in sickly sweet sauces. Even the classic ceviche was lackluster in many respects. Some of the flavors were spot-on, but ultimately the kitchen didn't trust the fish to grab the spotlight as the star of the show.
And, although BA has many sushi spots, maki with gobs of cream cheese is the norm. Authenticity and quality fish really aren't the sushi strong suits here. Think middling salmon and tempura rolls. Meh to say the the least.
Well, what about making fish or seafood at home? Aren't there some solid fishmongers in town? Um, no. Several locals urged me to visit Barrio Chino, which supposedly has the best that BA has to offer. Let's just say that if that's the best the city has to provide, I understand why folks stick to meat here.
So, am I "Debbie downer" when it comes to things aquatic in Buenos Aires? Not entirely, but I will say that I can't wait to sink my teeth into some really good sushi when I get back to New York. Until then, though, I will revel in BA's beefier delights.