Thursday, November 28, 2013

Forcella - Pizza Wars: The (Roman) Empire Strikes Back

It's almost impossible to talk about New York City pizza without someone uttering the phrase, “the best in the city”. New Yorkers pride ourselves on their pies, and everyone and their mother has their favorite spot. Given adequate provocation, they are ready to defend their favorite as the best of the best. And there's competition a-plenty. There are the old school classics - Grimaldi's, Patsy's, Lombardi's, John's on Bleeker. There's the new hipster-foodie regime – Motorino, Roberta's, Lucali. Artichoke, Best Pizza. The Brooklyn heavyweights – Totonno's, Di Fara, L and B Spumoni Gardens. And that's just the tip of the iceburg. There's the generic pizza parlor pie, dollar slices, grandma slices, sicilian, and thin crust bar pies.

Then there's Chicago, America's other great pizza town. If you haven't seen Jon Stewart's take-down of Chicago's deep dish pizza, its a must watch. ( Don't sleep on New Haven, Connecticut either. I've personally sat in 4+ hours of traffic just to pop into Frank Pepe's to get a slice of the clam pie.

Some are quick to disqualify the delivery franchises like Domino's and Papa John's as not-real-pizza, and yes, they are wholly, truly sub-par and gross. Yet, for every Corner Bistro Burger or Minetta Tavern Black Label Burger, there's a McDonald's, and I'd be lying to you if I told you I don't love a Big Mac. Lastly, there's the horrifying world of freezer pizza – Elio's, DiGiornio, etc. Please, I beg of you, leave those monstrosities to our mid-western compatriots, where they are forced, for lack of any other options, to consume such abominations.

But this entry is devoted to a style of pizza more pure, more authentic, than the above-mentioned contestants. To understand it, you have to trace the Italian-American heritage of New York pizza back to Italy, particularly – Naples. Neapolitan pizza is both the oldest sort of pizza and the newest variety to pop up all over the city. Neapolitan pizza is distinguished from it's progeny in that its typical smaller, usually about 8-12 inches in diameter and uses fresh ingredients, like San Marzano tomatoes and fresh bufala mozzarella cheese. The crust should be springy, yet crispy from having spent a short time in screaming hot wood-burning oven.

Forcella, just off of the Lorimer stop of the L train, is an authentic and excellent Neapolitan pizza spot. I had visited Forcella for the first time about a year ago, and I was a little disappointed, not because the pizza was bad, in fact, its great, but because at 8 p.m. on a Saturday nobody was inside. I feared that this great new pizza joint would be gone before I could return for more. I hadn't returned until just this past weekend, and to my surprise, the place was mobbed. (No pun intended, no seriously, please don't kill me, I have a family.) When we arrived, we asked for a party of two and promptly received the death-stare when we told them that we didn't have a reservation. After we were finally seated, more patrons flooded the narrow lobby and bar and waited for tables.

We ordered two pies. The first, and simply a must-order, was the Margherita Extra. The Margherita Pie is the flagship of all Neapolitan Pizza. Its so popular, most ordinary pizza parlor's carry some sort of bastardization. What makes it so delicious, and the reason its so scarcely reproduced correctly, is fresh ingredients. Forcella coats their pizza dough with a light and zippy fresh tomato sauce, before dolloping it with imported bufala mozzarella. If you have the dough (geez, I know, another pun) you can get Burrata, instead of the bufala. Then it goes into a massive wood-burning oven that takes up the rear quadrant of the open kitchen. It comes out bubbly and charred, and then gets hit with some good extra virgin olive oil and fresh basil. It's so simple its stupid, but it's all you need to make one of the... best pizza's in the city.

The second pie was a personal creation. The menu has a create your own pizza option, and I took full advantage. I started with a “Bianca” base, essentially fresh bufala mozzarella and parmesan cheese without the sauce. Then I added some prosciutto di parma. I swear, aside from maybe lobster, I don't think there's anything I'd rather eat than prosciutto. I finished the pie with a healthy pour of truffle oil. The pie was rich and decadent, but the doughy, chewy crust provided an excellent counterbalance to the toppings.

There's also a plethora of other pie's and toppings to sample. Cheeses include, bufala mozzarella, shaved pecorino, gorgonzola, provolone, ricotta, fontina, and burratta. Add to that, hot salami, garlic, anchovies, fennel sausage, prosciutto, truffle oil, mushrooms, eggplant, zucchini, arugula, olives, artichokes, and onion. Thats over ten million combinations! (I made that up, I don't know how to math).

We had intended on ordering a desert pie, essentially their pizza dough, fried and topped with nutella, almonds, and powdered sugar, but we didn't have room. Seriously though, how bad could that be? Forcella is BYOB too, so feel free to bring some wine to complement your pizza.

So, while I may not have resolved the “best in the city” pizza wars, Forcella is another arrow in the quiver to prove that New York City, with its multitude of styles and subsets is truly the mecca of pizza, this side of the Atlantic.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Egg: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Candied Bacon

Sometime between meteoric rise of the cronut and The Great Bacon Craze of 2009, this city fell head-over-heels for Brunch. Between all you can drink prix fixes to smoked meat tacos, the late-morning weekend meal is nothing short of a full-fledged food phenomenon. I've always been unabashedly unenthusiastic about breakfast food. My daily routine usually consists of a K-cup and a splenda. However, on the weekends, I am occasionally persuaded to get out of bed at the crack of noon and drag myself to the nearest place that sells runny egg yolks and crispy pork belly.

Thus, I finally made my way to Williamsburg's preeminent brunch spot, Egg. I've tried to get in to Egg once before, but I was dissuaded by the long wait. Fastened to the door of the nondescript restaurant is a clipboard where you can scribble your name and your party size, and once about every 500 minutes a hostess comes to seat those at the top of the list, who haven’t already gone elsewhere. Don't fret if the list is long, chances are Fonzie and Yolanda ditched to another breakfast spot. But the wait is worth it. 

If you visit in the winter months, when you get inside, you'll be rewarded with some hot, outstanding french press coffee. It really does beat the pants off of the regular drip stuff. There's something slightly rewarding about pressing the plunger down and pouring off a cup yourself.

I ordered the Eggs Rothko. After wrestling with ordering the Country Ham Biscuit, I ultimately had to order the eponymous egg. Just to give you a taste of what you could have been reading about, the Country Ham Biscuit features Kentucky ham piled on a biscuit lathered in fig jam, before Grafton cheddar is melted on top. You can see why I gave it serious contention. Oh, and it comes with grits. 

The Eggs Rothko, named after abstract impressionist painter Mark Rothko, was everything I look for in a brunch entree. There's nothing abstract about the dish, in fact, everything on the plate exists is as it should be. Gooey egg yolks wait for your fork to pierce the threshold, locked inside a fresh slice of brioche bread. A generous helping of Grafton cheddar insulates the eggs from above. This is essentially a take on what I would call “eggs in a basket” or “eggs in a hole”, which I frequently make at home using a juice glass to cut a small hole in a slice of white (or wheat) bread, in which to fry an egg. Egg's “Rothko” nails the ratio of eggs, bread, and cheese, so that theres just enough buttery bread to sop up the runny yellows. The cheddar cheese essentially turns this “eggs in a hole” into an open faced grilled cheese version of the breakfast dish.

Like all good breakfast joints, you get a side of meat with your eggs, and I chose (wisely) the candied bacon. If you love to pour a little maple syrup on your bacon, this is for you. If you aren't into that sort of thing, well, you need to reevaluate your life choices. The thick cut bacon retains every iota of the smoky, pork, goodness that you crave, but packs a syrupy sweet bite that is a bona fide, ten out of ten on the Richter Scale foodgasm. If there is any complaint to be made, its that they give you too much of the stuff, to the point where you begin to fear for your own safety. To quote the great Robert Kelly, my heart is telling me no, but my body, my body is telling me yes. Get off the subway a stop early, stop worrying, and learn to love the candied bacon.

I did also taste Egg's hash-browns and they too succeed. They have a golden, crispy outside and a flakey tender inside, reminiscent of the mythical hash-browns at McDonald's. I don't often get to enjoy those bad boys. If I'm in a McDonald's before 10 a.m., and I'm not at the airport, something bad has happened in my life. Egg's hash-browns are perfectly salty, not too greasy, and cut the sweetness of the candied bacon. Makes sense that Egg's ownership have a pop-up stand at the Smorgasbord called “Hash Bar”. Disappointingly though, my waiter brought me a bottle of Heinz Organic Ketchup, to accompany my hash-browns, which really didn’t do the job of the “real-deal” high fructose corn syrup stuff. Fucking hipsters, man.

All in all, Egg is a must-go for NYC brunch aficionados. Although it might not please to Bloody Mary and mimosa drinking crowd, a hot cup of good coffee and a runny egg is what gets me out of bed on the weekends. Oh, and the candied bacon, definitely the candied bacon. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Lake Pavilion - Brooklyn Goes to Queens

I've been meaning to venture into Flushing, Queens for some time now. With Chinatown reduced to a few worthy spots amidst a sea of barber shops, tourist traps, and Chase banks, I felt compelled to submerge myself in what is without-a-doubt the epicenter of authentic Chinese food on this side of the East River.

My experience at Lake Pavilion was in one word – bizarre. The restaurant itself is situated on on an exit ramp of the Long Island Expressway. Wedged between merging semis and reckless New York City driver's, Lake Pavilion's neon frontage shines like the diners of New Jersey. But inside you'll find no disco fries or gyros.

When you step into the foyer of Lake Pavilion, one finds themselves in what can only be described as an aquarium from hell. Creatures from the deep, including ten-foot long Dungeoness crabs, 5+ pound lobsters, scores of live prawns scurrying with semi-conscious fervor, and unidentifiable (at least to this guy) scaly red sea monsters, fill tanks from the floor to the ceiling. My only solace came from the knowledge that I would be imminently be eating them, rather than vice versa.

Past the threshold of the hell-quarium, and into the main dining hall, is yet another strange scene. The place is huge, and not just for NYC. Its a massive banquet hall littered with giant ten-seater circular tables decorated for a bat-mitzvah in 1988. Purple fabric covers the high-backed chairs, fastened with pink ribbons. Pseudo-silk gold napkins adorn the place settings. But no bat-mitzvah girl could be found, no DJ Lonny, or children playing coke-and-pepsi. In fact, my two dining compatriots and I were among the only white people in the place. But if its authentic Chinese that I want, I'm taking the overwhelming Asian crowd as a a sign I was in for something great. (Yes, I'm aware there are plenty of Asian Jews, so relax.)

We opened the menus, and to our dismay, it was mostly in Chinese. English translations were scant and largely ambiguous. One dish was translated to “Triple Crispy”. What was crispy? What was triple? To make matters worse, our waiter spoke minimal English. We ordered largely by pointing at the helpful photos and taking educated guesses.

We ordered three items. Peking Duck – which one Yelper called the best in the city. Dungeoness Crab with Glutenous Rice – to display my dominance over the sea monsters in the front and to test if any of us really did have a gluten allergy. Finally Mayonnaise Prawns with Fried Milk. I know what you are thinking, that sounds gross. Well, first consider that mayo and shrimp are frequently partners in shrimp salad. Moreover, the dish came highly recommended by both the NY Times review and Yelp. Still I was skeptical, but when we confronted our waiter about what was the thing to order at Lake Pavilion, he suggested (pointed at) the Mayonnaise Prawns too. So we were all in for it.

The Peking Duck was certainly worthy of the title of this long forgotten food blog. Jesus was it good. The duck was presented on a table-side cart, while our waiter sliced pieces off of the succulent, crispy-brown bird. He carefully took the pieces and put them in tiny buns, slathered with hoisen and finished with sliced cucumber. Heaven. Certainly better than the run of the mill bao, and in my opinion was better than the bao (baos?) at Momofuku, Ippudo, Bauhaus and many other NYC institutions.

Next came the Dungeoness Crab with Glutenous Rice. The crab appeared to be fried, and the meat inside was tender and sweet. But between the fatty duck and fried crab, our hands were slick and our brains starting to congeal with the beginnings of Stage 1 Food Coma. The Rice was certainly glutinous – sort of a al dente fried rice that was a great sidekick to the crab. It reminded me of the Salt Cod Fried Rice at Danny Bowien's Mission Chinese.

Last, and probably least, is the Mayonnaise Praws with Fried Milk. The prawns were large and plentiful, but slathered in a warm, sweet, yellow mayo. It was much like the Japanese mayo that accompanies many sushi rolls. But the shrimp were COVERED in it. It was actually rather tasty, but for me, it was a psychological battle. Every time I put one in my mouth, a big ole' jar of Hellman's popped into mind. Scattered over the shrimp were some delicious candied walnuts.

The fried milk pieces were actually delicious. They were like the best zeppoles or beignets you've ever tasted (outside of the Jersey Shore and New Orleans respectfully, of course) filled with a sweet cream. They were fantastic, but so sweet. One or two of them was overwhelming, and they gave us about 95. Combined with the sweet and tangy mayonnaise shrimp and the candied walnuts, this dish was simply too much sweetness for my tastebuds to handle.

Thank god for the hot towel guy, because after the meal I needed a warm bath and EMS. Maybe it was the fried milk, or the mayo, or the fried crab, or the fatty duck, but I was down for the count. To add to the bizarre scene, at various points throughout the evening, over the loud PA system came a 1980's drum track and synth, with a strange rendition of the birthday song in both Chinese and Chinese-English. Think – Applebees meets Hong Kong. Doors would open, behind which we would hear Chinese pop music blasting. Was there a party back there? We never ventured back there, but we think there might be a secret karaoke bar.

Oh, and hey, it wasn't cheap either! We weren’t quite sure how much these dishes were when we ordered them, so expect a little sticker shock when you get your all Chinese receipt.

All in all, would I go back to Lake Pavilion? Not without a guide. Despite the internet's best help, I feel we could have ordered better if we could have pierced the language barrier. As we left, we passed a table of chefs. We glimpsed dished that looked more appealing, and less greasy. We again passed through the aquarium of horrors one last time, and I got the sense that, despite my optimism, it was they who had defeated me. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pies N' Thighs Chicken Biscuit

I know that FoodGasm NY has been rather absent of late, and again, I apologize. However, sometimes I find something so delectable and unique that I have to share it. This month, Madison Sq. Park is hosting Madison Sq. Market, an “upscale outdoor market… selling local, hand-made, and unique items.” I could care less about more useless junk being hocked in the city’s parks, but, the market hosts a “Food Square”, an outdoor eatery featuring bites from a few of the city’s restaurants. Vendors include: Pies 'N Thighs, Sigmund Pretzelshop, Safi Coffee, ilili, Fatty Crab & ‘Cue, Cabrito, Wafels & Dinges, Breezy Hill Orchard, Bar Suzette, Roberta’s Pizza, Resto, Piccolo Café, Stuffed Artisan Cannolis, Almond, Safi Coffee, Tanjore Indian Food. Hopefully, I’ll get around to writing about a few of the snacks I pick up from the Food Square, but right now, at this moment, I have to tell you about the “Chicken Biscuit” from Pies N’ Thighs.

As I perused the various vendors, looking for something to call out to me, I found myself drawn by Pies N’ Thighs – the Williamsburg down-home country kitchen joint. A small sign read “chicken biscuit”, which didn’t really tell me anything more than it was a fried chicken cutlet on a biscuit, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I asked the chef what came on the chicken biscuit besides a piece of chicken, and she responded quickly with two of the best condiments I could think of, honey butter and hot sauce. Without any hesitation and a big stupid grin, I replied, “I’ll have one”. I brought it back to my little table in the shadow of the Flatiron Building to my friends, who looked at my chicken biscuit and I with furious envy. By the time I was ready to go, the pat of honey butter had melted perfectly over the biscuit and the chicken cutlet, blending with the tangy hot sauce to make a perfect buffalo style sauce. I’m almost certain they were using Frank’s Red Hot, but I could be mistaken. The sweetness of the honey buttered biscuit, the saltiness of the chicken, and the heat from the hot sauce combined to make one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. If you like buffalo chicken sandwiches, this is for you. But unlike most buffalo chicken sandwiches, which are usually buried between some hefty pieces of bread, the light airy biscuit provides a pillow-like resting place for the crispy fried chicken cutlet. If you are by Madison Sq. Park this month, go do yourself a favor and get a chicken biscuit from Pies N’ Thighs. You can also find them at their restaurant in Williamsburg. More from the Food Square coming! Stay hungry.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

FoodGasm New York's Superbowl Spectacular: Parkway Bakery of New Orleans

Hey folks, Jon here, with FoodGasm New York's SuperBowl Spectacular. When people approach me about taking the blog on the road, doing something out of the five boroughs, I usually remind people that FoodGasm has a strict policy of staying local. However, a friend of mine, and a fellow food fan, approached me about a NOLA special, just in time for the Saints to take on Eli Manning's older brother. Her constant adoration of New Orleans' food scene always leaves me salivating, so I gladly let her take the reins and represent FoodGasm on the bayou. Enjoy the review, and the stunning high res food porn. Without further ado, here is Alyssa's take on the Parkway Bakery.

Parkway Bakery of New Orleans

When one thinks of traditional New Orleans cuisine, there is gumbo, jambalaya, and of course the po’ boy. As a displaced Northeasterner, if I was asked to draw a parallel, the closest thing to a po’boy is a submarine sandwich. But don't you dare tell that to a New Orleanian with a straight face. The distinction is supposedly limited to the type of bread, but it is definitely much more than that, as I have never seen a fried catfish sub.

So the po’boy joint of choice? That would be Parkway Bakery and Tavern. Gambit Weekly’s Best of New Orleans 2009 voted Parkway Bakery the best place to get a Roast Beef po’boy, best place to get a Shrimp po’boy, and best place to get an Oyster po’boy (another type you don’t see at your local New York Sub Shop). So did this triple threat live up to the hype? I recruited a couple friends to find out.

Located in the area of New Orleans known as Midcity, the surrounding area is not exactly the place you want to get caught by yourself at night. In true New Orleans fashion, the house immediately to the right of Parkway Bakery is in the middle of a renovation, and is being lifted about 15 feet off the ground. The area did flood during Katrina, but sources say Parkway Bakery reopened just 90 days after the flood.

There are no waiters at Parkway Bakery, and the atmosphere is as casual as they come. People line up at a counter and pass menus along to the other people in line. The po’boys come in regular or large. If you intend to actually eat an entire large po’boy from Parkway, I strongly suggest not eating for about three days before. But if you did choose to eat, you can order a large anyway. The half you don’t eat will be an awesome dinner, or hungover lunch the next day.

We placed a pretty all-star order. One Roast Beef Po’Boy, One Fried Catfish Po’Boy, One Fried Shrimp Po’Boy, One Oyster Po’Boy, and the special: One BBQ Alligator Po’Boy. Then a side of Turkey and Alligator Sausage Gumbo and a large Sweet Potato Fries. I had a lot of help with eating all this, don’t worry.

When you place your order the person at the counter is going to say “dressed?” If you’re like me, your first time hearing this and your reaction is going to be to stare back blankly. But an insider tip: the answer is “yes, please.” Dressed means lettuce, tomato, mayo, and pickles. I, of course, wanted all of these, although you can place your order as you like.

Try and find a clean seat, and seat yourself. The tables are long, cafeteria style and don’t be afraid to sit at a table with people already at it. You aren’t in New York anymore, and people are all the more willing to add you to their table and talk about almost anything. Topic of choice this month? WHO DAT SAY DEY GONNA BEAT DEM SAINTS?

The food was an overall pleasure. There were certainly no displeased patrons. The all star goes to the fried catfish po’boy and the sweet potato fries. The roast beef was cooked to perfection and was some of the best roast beef I’ve ever had. It held up great, and the other half was a perfect next-day lunch.

Alligator for the most part is a similar texture and taste to chicken. I wish I could say I have something to compare it with, but in actuality, I haven’t eaten much alligator. It’s the same for the fried catfish, so I suppose I just liked the taste of catfish a bit more then alligator. They were both fantastic.

The fried shrimp po’boy was also near-perfect with the shrimp falling off the sandwich in delicious plump pieces to eat between bites.

The gumbo was also amazing. Gumbo is similar to a stew or a soup. It was spiced perfectly and the turkey and alligator sausage were plentiful and delicious. It was served with bread seasoned with garlic. Some people put the sausage and turkey on the bread and ate it as a sandwich; others dipped the bread into the gumbo and chose to eat it that way. There is certainly no wrong way.

On to the other A+, the sweet potato fries. The fries were perfect. There is no other way to describe them. They had a perfect crunch, and were much sweeter than your standard French fries.

When we were leaving, we stopped to take a picture of the Parkway Bakery and Tavern sign and restaurant. Clearly looking like tourists, an elderly gentleman asked us if we wanted to take a group picture. Then he engaged us in a conversation with a winning joke: “It’s so cold out today, lawyers are keeping their hands in their own pockets!” When we confessed to being law students, he said “hold on, I got another. There was a man, ya see, and he was arrested for bootlegging a while back. When the judge asked him his name, he said ‘Joshua, sir.’ The judge said ‘like in the bible, Joshua who made the sun stand still?’ And the man said ‘no sir, I’m the Joshua that made the moonshine still.’”

That’s New Orleans for you: friendly people, good food, and a bit of alcohol. WHO DAT?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Caracas Arepa Bar

In 2008, I was moments from packing my things and jetting to Caracas, Venezuela. A close friend of mine, who is involved in the business of making films, was contemplating shooting a documentary about the social and political unrest that Hugo Chavez has brought to his homeland. I’ve always been enticed by Venezuela, and South America in general, so I figured this would be a great place to complete my collegiate thesis on political propaganda. The foodie in me was desperate to try the cuisine, mainly, an authentic arepa, which is a corn pocket of sorts filled with, well, whatever you want, mostly due to my friend’s undying passion for them. Then I realized that shooting an anti-Chavez expose on the exploitation of the Venezuelan people would probably result in an express kidnapping at best, and my swift imprisonment and eventual execution at worst. So I didn’t go. But I still desperately wanted an arepa.

In Venezuela, arepas are everywhere. My Venezuelan friend describes, "There are many different kinds of Arepas in Venezuela, as a matter of fact, there are different kinds of Arepas all over Latin America. What makes an Arepa so good? It’s simply love, and the fact that you can pretty much fill your Arepa up with anything, and eat it pretty much any time of day. For example, it is perfectly common to begin your day with an “Arepa de Jamon y Queso” (ham and cheese). At lunch you can go to the local “Arepera” and have my personal favorite, an “Arepa de Pabellon Criollo”. The Pabellon Criollo is the national dish, which includes shredded beef, black beans, white rice, fried plantain and shredded cheese spread on top. For dinner, you can go home and enjoy a delicious “Reina Pepi’a” which is made with a typical Venezuelan chicken salad known as “ensalada de gallina” (hen salad) and avocados. If you are still hungry later on and the kitchen in your house is closed, don’t worry Areperas never do."

In New York City, most arepas are found in the lowest dregs of the culinary world. They are an unfortunate staple of those street fairs that pop up for a few hours or so, seemingly serving only to fuck up traffic, and sell crap that literally nobody buys – like dreamcatchers. These knockoff arepas taste like deep fried plastic, and they aren’t that cheap either. Until I found Caracas Arepa Bar, that was my only option short of risking my neck in South America.

Caracas Arepa Bar has an impressive array of arepas to try, usually featuring some combination of meat, cheese, bean, avocado, fried plantains, or vegetables. According to my buddy, a trip to Caracas Arepa Bar wouldn’t be complete without trying the Arepa de Pabellón. Stuffed into the corn pocket is a bounty shredded beef, black beans, white salty cheese and sweet plantains. It’s outrageously good to say the least. The ingredients logically belong together, and I’d be glad to devour them on a plate with a fork any day, but the arepa adds depth of texture and a sweet corn flavor that brings it up a level. It functions almost the same way as a pita in Middle Eastern cuisine. Sure, I would love to eat falafal and hummus any way I can, but a portable holder for your food makes it more intimate. Eat with your hands whenever possible.

The arepas are sort of pricey, usually running between six and eight dollars a pop, but two will be more than enough. I’d recommend going for lunch, where you can get an arepa, a soup, or a salad all for eight dollars. The soup varies, but when I went, it was a delicious butternut squash. For a winter’s day, it was the perfect pick-me-up before I could really get going and dive face first into my arepa. Just look at all that delicious cheese. I’d make that exchange over a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche any day.

The restaurant is small, so you might have to wait for a table, but its size adds to its charm. The Arepa Bar feels much like a small home. It is filled with Venezuelan memorabilia, fully decked out in the yellow, red, and blue colors of the flag. As I sat enjoying my arepa, I looked up at the wall only to find an very eerie bobblehead doll of Hugo Chavez leering at me. Images of Chucky from the Child’s Play films came to mind, only instead of slicing me into pieces, the Chavez doll would have censored this post (and then probably have me sliced to pieces.) Until next time, stay hungry out there amigos.

Report Card:

Food: B+

Atmosphere: B+

Service: B

Price: $$

Overall: B+

Monday, January 18, 2010

Crif Dogs

Stumbling around the East Village last night, I decided to pop into one of my absolute favorite late night snack stops, Crif Dogs. Just a stone’s throw from Tompkins Sq. Park, Crif Dogs is a neighborhood landmark, a hole in the wall with a punk rock flavor that serves some of the city’s best hot dogs.

I’m not one for toppings on my hot dog, I’m more of a mustard and kraut kind of guy, but Crif Dogs is a bastion of throwing the kitchen sink on top of your tasty wiener. But before I get to the dogs, I want to say a few things about the venue. Crif Dogs is a hot dog stand with balls. On the other side of Seventh Street sits the now famous fire-escape-laden apartment building that the mighty Led Zeppelin used to as the cover art to their 1975 double album “Physical Graffiti”, and Crif Dogs shares that rock and roll attitude. The place is a dive, a dingy little space demarcated by a neon hot dog sign that reads, “eat me”. Just beyond the door sit some of my absolute favorite arcade classics, Double Dragon, Pac-man, and Spy Hunter. They are busted up, and sometimes don’t work great, but it certainly adds to the charm. Across from the mini-arcade is a seemingly out of place London style phone booth. If you know the right people, a well-timed knock on the trap door will open into PTD or Please Don’t Tell, one of NYC’s last remaining speakeasies, but that's a whole other review.

There are a plethora of dogs to choose from, but that’s why I’m here to help. Some are definitely better than others. Let’s start with the champ, the sure thing, the go to, the always delectable, the “Spicy Redneck”. The good folks behind the counter take a seemingly innocent dog, wrap it up in some tasty bacon, and drop it into a deep fryer. It sounds strange but deep-frying is actually a great way of making sure the hot dog has the requisite snap. As you know from last year’s “Hot Dog Battle” (see below), snappiness is probably the most important feature of any dog, done up with toppings or not. Once it emerges, its topped with some tasty cole slaw, chili, and diced jalapenos. The Redneck throws off the perfect amount of heat, but is balanced with the creamy slaw, and the fiery chili.

Up next, the Good Morning Dog.. For a full review I’m going to throw it to guest blogger, and hot dog connoisseur, T.Z. Windman. T.Z. writes, “The Good Morning Dog begins in the same fashion as most other popular Crif Dogs – wrapped in bacon and deep fried until crispy - but the Good Morning stands out from the other delicious dogs with the addition of the over easy fried egg and a slice of American Cheese. Add ketchup and this simple arrangement combines to create the best Bacon, Egg and Cheese sandwich you may find in NYC, though I doubt you will find many residents who will start their day with a Good Morning…as opposed to ending a good night”

The Chihuahua is aptly named, as this dog has a little Mexican flair, but unfortunately falls a little flat. Again, deep-fried and wrapped in bacon, but this time the dog gets the sour cream and avocado treatment. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but it’s just not on par with the Good Morning or the Redneck. If avocados are your thing, go for it.

I couldn’t pass up getting a “classic” kraut and mustard dog on the cheap. In this department, Crif Dogs just can’t compete with Grey’s Papaya. The dog is tasty, but the sour kraut is too mild, almost sweet, and winds up sogging the bun. At Crif Dogs, stick with the specials.

Here’s a few FoodGasm New York tips and tricks. Order ahead. A simple phone call will save you a bunch of time. Crif Dogs is always packed with a boatload of drunk and hungries, so if you don’t call, you can face an intimidating line. Second, if you can only scrape enough change for one dog, but want something to wash it down, there is free water in a cooler by the door. In the end, this hot dog stand/retro-arcade/speakeasy is definitely one my favorite late night joints.

Report Card:

Food: A-

Atmosphere: A+

Value: $$

Service: B+

Overall: A-

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Bistro Truck

Food trucks around New York City are giving an entirely new meaning to “meals on wheels”. Sure, street cart vendors have always been a part of the city’s charm, but the invasion of high quality food trucks transcends the traditional dirty water dogs and street meat so tied to this city’s food culture. This influx of everything from barbeque to waffles and dinges in mobile form seems obvious for a city constantly on the go. Still, it’s not until you buy chocolate molten cake out of the back of a truck that you think, “Damn, I wish I thought of this”.

What I find particularly interesting is the emergence of the expanding range of food available on the street. Middle eastern food carts have been staples of New York’s sidewalks for ages. Latin American food is certainly the runner up, but they seem no less prevalent. So, when I passed The Bistro Truck I was intrigued by the idea. It’s so fitting. In Paris, bistros are the alternative to haute cuisine. They exist so you can get a moderately priced, moderately sized, home-style meal, while you smoke your cigarettes, wearing a beret, reading Camus, and trash talking Americans. In New York, bistros have taken on a different role, often charging exorbitant prices while maintaining a certain degree of culinary snootiness. To see the bistro in the most pedestrian of settings was a welcome sight.

Lets talk food. I ordered the Marrakech lamb, which came with cous cous and a small salad. For 7 dollars, I was very happy. The lamb was likely braised for hours, and then pulled. I really didn’t detect many North African flavors though, so I was a bit confused as what made this Marrakech lamb. Instead, the lamb reminded me of a Jewish style brisket (that is opposed to Texas BBQ brisket). It was rich, flavorful, and tender, with just enough juice or gravy to soak up the cous cous. The cous cous itself wasn’t anything special, but once it got together with that brisket, it excelled. Other items on the menu include a “bistro burger”, which I saw being served, and it looked pretty damn good. My friend ordered the Dijon chicken, which I tasted, and liked.

Look, this isn’t a foodgasm in the slightest. It’s lunch on the street, for seven dollars. That being said, the service was a little slow. I chalk that up to a pretty long line, and its prime location on Fifth Avenue near 14th Street. Still, the woman who seems to play owner, chef, waitress, and cashier at the same time appeared to be working her ass off, so I chose to be forgiving. Yet, some nasty old hag just had to bitch at this poor woman. She remarked snidely about the wait, which was no more than ten minutes, to which the owner apologized emphatically. To be fair, this is street food, and it should be rapid, but I empathize with the Bistro Truck. Mainly, that is, is because I wish for nothing more than to untie my tie, wrap it around my head, and cook hot dogs out of the back of a truck. Until next time, stay hungry out there folks.

Report Card

Food: B

Service – B+

Atmosphere – A

Price - $

Overall – B+

(Note – I am changing the Price grading system in the Report Card to dollar signs, instead of a letter. An “A” for price could mean a 5 dollar sandwich, or a 25 dollar entrée, depending on where you go, so this is far more telling. Grades will range from $ to $$$$$)

Monday, August 10, 2009

"You Say Tomato, I Say Agricultural Disaster"

Chef Dan Barber, of Blue Hill, has written a very interesting op-ed for the New York Times about the late blight that has destroyed much of the tomato crop in the northeast this year. It's a very good read, especially for those who plant their own fruits or vegetables.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Hey folks, Jon here. I'm not one for genres. Be it music or food, our ever-changing and rapidly globalizing world is shattering the walls that used to help us comprehend what something "is". When someone tells me a band is Electronic Afro Funk, or a certain restaurant is Post Asian Fusion, I begin to wonder if these labels have any use. At the same time, saying something is Japanese food, or rock music, doesn't really help either. For all their trouble, genres allow us to experience something within certain bounds. They provide a certain set of expectations for our sensory perception. Yet, one particular genre sets out to destroy these expectations by playing off of them, and ultimately shattering them. I'm talking about what has come to be known as "molecular gastronomy". Its a mouth full. Molecular gastronomy incorporates scientific techniques into the culinary arena, and by doing so it reveals some of the mystery behind the process of cooking food. This opens a door where a chef can obliterate traditional culinary norms, while allowing for far more artistic expression. In New York, Wyle DuFresne is the mad-scientist in chief in the world of molecular gastronomy, and his Lower East Side resturaunt, wd-50, is his delicious laboratory.

In a way, wd-50 is much like Willy Wonka's factory, except your golden ticket better be your AMEX, because its not cheap. Like everyone's favorite reclusive candy mogul, DuFresne takes typical fare, like eggs benedict or pastrami on rye, and transforms it into something completely different, yet at the same time totally familiar. While this is all good fun, and really interesting, it was just a little too cheeky for me at times. When you spend the kind of money that wd-50 will cost you, you want something that, in the end, tastes great, rather than makes you chuckle at how ironic it is.

To start we ordered his famous eggs benedict. Eggs benedict is perhaps one of the most universally available dishes. It can be found at nearly every brunch spot in America, and every chef who has a right to that title knows how to make it. This sort of fodder is prime for Dufresne - stuff we know, stuff we have a certain set of expectations for. This dish was definitely a great example of where molecular gastronomy works. Dufresne takes the hollandaise sauce and deep fries it, so that you have a crispy square, that once bitten into explodes in your mouth. It's almost like a gourmet "gusher", those irresistible gummies from my youth. The dish is also deconstructed, a theme that runs throughout the entire genre. Egg here, bacon there, sauce over there. Sometimes, like here for example, this works well, because it allows for the diner to appreciate individual tastes in what is generally a grouped item. Other times it's just cheesy. There's no reason to have a piece of ground beef on one side of the plate, a piece of cheese on the other, and a crouton artistically laid in the middle. Just give me a fucking cheeseburger, and cut the shit.

The other appetizer was also great. In the spirit of its Lower East Side location, Dufresne plays off of one of my personal faves, the power and the glory that is the Katz's Deli corned beef on rye. (See Below for an unapologetically raving review) Instead of corned beef, DuFresne offers up Corned Duck on a Rye Crisp with Horseradish Cream and Purple Mustard. You can't lose with cured meat folks, it's really that simple. The duck adds a certain depth of flavor that you don't get with standard corned beef. You can't invoke the spirit of the sandwich without mustard, and the purple mustard and horseradish give it a real nice kick. Still, I'm going with Katz's any day.

Unfortunately, I think at that point my meal hit a peak. The entrees were certainly good, they just seemed to fall a little short of my expectations, which were ironically to shatter my expectations. I ordered Wagyu skirt steak with long bean, tamarind, and peanut butter pasta. Sure, the steak was perfectly cooked and was a fabulous cut. I understand that peanut butter and steak are an established flavor combination that works (satay). But at this point, I began to ask myself, do I really want to be eating peanut butter noodles? At a certain point, a line is crossed between a dish that is whimsical and a dish that is unnecessary and a forced transformation into something it is not. My dinner guest ordered the scallops with pine noodle udon and chinese broccoli. What I enjoyed about this dish was that it wasn't too complex, or overly cerebral. Just perfectly seared scallops in a unique and refreshing broth. Enjoyable, but not outstanding.

For dessert, I indulged in the hazelnut tart with coconut chocolate and chicory. This is one of those dishes with Dufresne's trademark foams. While the tart was certainly decadent and delicious, the foam really didn't do it for me. Foam is just a peculiar texture, and not one I'm super enthusiastic about eating, regardless of the flavor.

All in all, wd-50, Dufresne, molecular gastronomy, the whole deal just was a little too tongue in cheek for me. I think this restaurant is best suited for his six million course tasting menu, only it'll cost you your first born. Largely, that's because this fare is perhaps best suited to small plates, which is why I was more thrilled with the appetizers. It's almost like, "Oh, wow, look at that" or "Geez, how did he do that!", but not necessarily something you want a whole meal of. Still, if your feeling adventurous and are tired of food being just something to eat, wd-50 brings a spectacle to dining that everyone should witness at least once. Until next time, stay hungry out there folks.

Report Card:

Food: A-
Service: A-
Atmosphere: B
Price: C

Overall: B