Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Running Joke Of Mine...

I wish I were running the New York marathon this Sunday....

Be happy and Carpe Diem!

It's A Wine-derful Life

Last week I had the pleasure of accompanying my friend to a book launch party at The Gallery at Astor Center--the event space just above Astor Wines. Said launched book being celebrated was Marnie Old's, celebrated sommelier, author, and wine educator from Philly, latest: Wine Secrets: Advice from Sommeliers, Winemakers, and Connoisseurs. It's an advice guidebook of six chapters on all things wine, a big chunk about food and wine pairings. Heading titles range from "Sunshine and Wine Style: How Climate Affects Body and Flavor, to "How To Taste Wine Like A Pro", "How to Guestimate Wine Style from Packaging Clues", and "How to Get The Best Wine Advice in Restaurants". Every article is co-authored by or features sage advice from nationally-acclaimed chefs or sommeliers.

In attendance were a barrel full of wine aficionados, sommeliers, wine experts, even a professor of Wine Studies from the CIA. I saw this as an opportunity to broaden my cork-izons, open my mind..and potentially my palate.

Now, I have to warn all you wine-o's out there: I am not a fan of the fermented grape. Shameful, I know -- I'm a fraud, a scam, a traitor, a faux foodie; I lived in Italy, a waste of space, I was told. I've supposedly tried good wine from my dining companions in the past..but no dice. Especially red wine. Will never like that -- too intense and bitter. I didn't grow up around parents who drank wine, so perhaps it'll just take a bit longer to acquire the taste for it....if I ever do....

The room was set up with different sections of tables, each with a different theme related to a part of the book. The first station was a sampling of sparkling wine. I may not like wine, but boy oh boy, sparkling wine -- champagne, prosecco, asti, cava, you name it, I'll take it. And will be happy as a clam.

The next station was about seasoning and savory/sweet foods. The thesis, if you will, is that seasoning is often just as important as the main ingredient; instead of thinking about the type of fish, pasta, or meat you're ordering in order to pair a suitable, pay more attention to the "salty" and the "sweet".

We were given a glass of Riesling. We took our first sip: very dry, almost bitter. We then took a pinch of salt and popped it in our mouths, and then took another sip of the dry Riesling. The result was a far more toned-down Riesling flavor. The bitterness of the wine was toned down by the salt, and the saltiness was toned down by the wine.

The next glass was another Riesling -- except this one was sweet, very sweet. We took the first sip. Delicious. I liked it on its own. We then took a mini pretzel and dipped it in a bowl of honey, and then ate the pretzel (which served as the adhesive to the honey to facilitate hygienic honey eating from a communal bowl). I initially thought that the extreme sweetness from the honey would enhance the sweetness of the Riesling and vice versa, but not so: The resulting outcome was actually a much less severe sweetness from both the wine and the honey.

When I later had the chance to speak with the author, Marnie, I asked her why I was eating the salt and honey to lessen the intensity of the two Rieslings when the whole purported purpose of wine is to enhance the flavor of foods. She insightfully told me that that is the case, that wine decreases the intensity of saltiness -- that many high end restaurants intentionally make dishes saltier, knowing that diners will order wines because it will not only lessen the saltiness, but also that it will bring out the flavors of the main dish. This got me thinking -- is this not dulling the taste of foods? And why don't restaurants simply not add more salt instead of adding excessive amounts, ordering a glass, drinking it, reducing the salty taste, and increasing our blood pressure? Any help here guys?

Expanding my horizons was fun and all, but this was hands down the highlight of the evening:

Cheeeeeeeese. From my beloved Murray's, no less. Available for sampling (or turning into a meal, in my case), was (clockwise): Spring Brook, Tarentaise Aged (cow's milk) Tomme Crayeuse (semi soft cow's milk -- very earthy, mushroomy, moldy tasting -- i-rre-sis-tible), La Serena (semi soft sheep's milk -- vegetal -- reminded me of manchego. Divine), and finally, Leonora (earthy, stinky, soft). There was also charcuterie provided by Murray's Cheese, but as a non pig-eater, I passed.

I was stoked to see my first, live sabering (a very dramatic, Napoleon-borne champagne-opening ceremony). He explains and demonstrates for the first bottle....

People volunteer themselves for the subsequent bottles (I would have volunteered, but I was too busy dissecting the author's brain about her love of wine)

The next section was about old world vs. new world wines. We were given one glass of old word wine (European region; more old school wine making, grapes from the same soil) and one glass of new world wine (the Americas, Australia, New Zealand; use new technology/techniques, grapes for one bottle can come from different locations) and were asked to compare the two. Pretty palatable difference -- the old world wine was far more subtle and discrete in flavor (which to me equals bad, but I don't have an appreciation for the subtleties and nuances of fine wine), while the new wine was much more bold and expressive. The old world wine was also more oaky-- but that likely has to do with its sitting in a barrel.

All in all it was a wine-tastic way to spend an otherwise average Monday night. I certainly expanded my cork-izons, ate some mouthwatering cheeses, and actually learned more about wine and food pairings than I thought. Who knows, I might actually flip through the wine bible at my next restaurant outing.....

Be happy and Carpe Diem!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Welcome to the Doghouse

I can just hear Martin Scorsese. His high pitched, supersonic voice ranting and bemoaning the news that's yet another reminder of the bygone days of his childhood. Of the days that inspired his works of art that are celluloid dreams of the neighborhood's current tenants, who are hoping to use a s(p)lice of that inspiration to replicate the feeling of life vérité, vestiges of its own history, for their own (commercial) success.

Ain't gonna happen.

Where you used to find pickles and pastrami, now you find plaid and PBR.

Where you used to find plaid and PBR (and still do, but at a diminishing rate), now you find polos and piña coladas.

The Doghouse is a sports bar that, according to the above Grub Street article, will boast huge flat-screen TVs, Yankees memorabilia, skee ball and pool tables, oversized Sex on the Beach drinks, karaoke nights, beer pong competitions (!!!!), free hot dogs all night (ok, I could deal with that one), half-off margaritas for Monday Night Football, and a red-lit downstairs lounge that will be manned by a discerning doorman and his guest list.

No word on when it's officially open (or if it's already open -- saw a picture but couldn't find any official listing), but this is a big deal for the LES and its recent hipster history. Walking through the streets of the LES in the past 6-7 years, there was nary a wide legged pair of pants, symmetrical haircut, person with more than 5% body fat, Dave Matthews song emanating from a bar, or Starbucks cup in plain view. These people enjoyed life where Tuesday was the new Thursday (which, of course, was the new Friday). Life was just glorious. Then, people above 14th Street caught wind of this supposed counterculture and social scene and wanted in -- because it's always cool to be what the masses are not. Duh.

There were so many opinions, thoughts, and commentaries about the damn-the-man hipsters and hipster wannabes (whatever that means). You could find articles about it in every New York-centric publication: TimeOut New York, New York Magazine, even the New Yorker. Everyone was curious - whether intrigued by or eschewing these hipsters - and wanted to know more about this culture and its requirements. But at the epicenter of Hipsterdom, in the Lower East Side, there was only silence.

You see, the first rule of being a hipster is to not talk about being a hipster. You can't actually acknowledge that you are a hipster, that you have made a concerted effort -- a choice -- to wear the clothes that you wear, to listen to the music that's stored on your iPod, to read the books on your walk-up studio apartment's coffee table (never a doorman building -- that's so bourgeois, so gauche), or to possess and believe in the opinions that you spout to your friends around a table at a fair trade coffee shop. That's soo not cool. You were born with those wayfarers on your eyes. You didn't buy into a love of Bloc Party, it's just who you are. Those skinny jeans? They've been snugly wrapped around your legs since the day you entered into this world.

Now, it seems, or at least partially so, that scraggly is out, and clean cut is in. It started a while ago, when new sparkly and glamorous neighbors attracting high-end clientele moved in, like the Hotel on Rivington, the Thompson LES, The Eldridge, The Box, and Libation (and we're not even talking restaurants; ahem, The Stanton Social). The next level were the middle men like Spitzer's Corner, known for its dozens of beers on tap. And now, The Doghouse Saloon. Come to think of it, the only sports bars on the LES I can think of are Blue Seats (a fancy pants sports bar) and Boss Tweed's.

So, to sum up: first it was the hipsterification. Now it's the (ostensibly slowly but surely) UES-ification. No longer is it commonplace to find a troubled, young protagonist walking through the streets of the Lower East Side, as is characteristic of many a Scorsese flick. Less time will be spent in the LES by hipster memory-makers like Nicky Digital and Last Night's Party. But I don't think it's going to be as bad as it sounds. The beloved Max Fish et al. will still be there, and hipsters aplenty will graciously and loyally stand their ground, proudly swigging their PBRs and making fun of the Tod's-footed creatures running amok outside, waiting in line (the horror) to gain entrance to the recently-opened posh bar next door.

So shall we just start calling it the Lupper East Side from now on? Nah, you can still find me on my Ludlow Street/LES bar crawl anytime.

Be happy and Carpe Diem!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Trick or Tweet

Disclaimer: I did not, I repeat did not - and will never, consume any of the foods pictured in this entry. Photos courtesy of

Sausage stuffed with pepperoni, cheese and veggies stuffed inside more sausage with a second layer of toppings, all smoked and then topped with pepperoni.

Ok this has nothing to do with Halloween (my most favorite holiday), but it does have to do with Twitter and the event is two days before Halloween.

A loaf of hollowed out bread filled with creamy peanut butter, a jar of grape jelly, and a pound of bacon

The ultimate in food truck competitions. Food that will win over your heart -- or perhaps break it, literally. This Is Why You're Fat, a new book based on a website that compiles pictures submitted by users from around the nation of grotesquely large, unhealthy, or just plain disgusting foods, is coming out next week. And as a sort of publicity game (or to see who can eat through their insurance deductibles first), the top food trucks in Manhattan (Treats Truck, Cupcake Stop, the Bistro Truck, Wafels & Dinges, the Cravings Truck, and Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream) are going head to head, or bun to bun if you will, to see who can whip up the tastiest and most heart-wrenching creation that best represents the inspiration for the book.

The first Tweeter to submit photos of them eating the creations at all of the participating trucks wins a food-truck- catered party for 25 -- oh, and the winning dish becomes a regular on the respective truck's menu!

I wonder what they'll think of.

Two hot dogs covered with chili, cheese, and pastrami wrapped in a tortilla

If anybody is free next Thursday, please please make the rounds, take pictures, and tell me how it was!

Mini double cheeseburgers with chicken McNuggets for buns

Be happy and Carpe Diem!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cerveza Ahora, Trabajo Luego!

(I hope that was grammatically correct!)

Remember the days when Mexican food consisted of gloppy, artificial, plastic-tasting cheese (reminiscent of nachos at a baseball stadium--except Citifield!) thrown atop a pile of pathetically thin, mediocre tortilla chips; or flavorless, overly food processor-processed guacamole; or fajitas that pretty much consist of questionable at worst, decent at best quality meats and mushy, overcooked bell peppers? Or when Taco Bell was considered the real definition of heading to the border?

Well, friends, those days are unfortunately not gone.

But the GOOD news is that you don't have to settle for soggy burritos the size of your head and filled with stale rice and bland, soupy refried beans. Nope! Well, you can if you want -- I can appreciate getting take out because it's easy, no frills, fairly inexpensive, fast, and just tasty enough to justify eating out of disposable dish wear in the comfort of your home. But what if you can find all of these, except the latter, which is tasty enough to satisfy any Mexican food craving, at a restaurant in the East Village, and with a layer of modernity to top it all off? You can find this at Mercadito (179 Avenue B b/w 10th and 11th Streets), a cantina-looking Mexican joint that's been serving fish tacos and other authentic Mexican food that'll for sure put SoCal "only we have good fish tacos" braggarts to shame.

Patricio Sandoval opened Mercadito, (with two other branches -- the "cantina" just south one block at 172 Ave B, and the "grove" at 100 7th Ave South at Grove St) in 2004 to provide hip and hungry New Yorkers a feel of life south of the border by just passing through the doors of their restaurant (or just entering the restaurant, during the no-doors, tables-spilling-onto-the-streets-set up during the summer).

The rickety wooden chairs in all different pastel colors, rattan place mats, candle lights, and green house plants scattered throughout are colorful and fun decor that stand up well to the colorful and fun flavors of Mercadito's food. Mr. Sandoval, the Mexico City-born owner-chef, worked hard in planning the menu to ensure that his restaurant wasn't just another one of those run-of-the-mill tex-mex eateries, but rather, that it highlighted the specialties of Southern Mexican food - with a contemporary twist. To this effect, the E-Vill restaurant offers a variety of delicious and authentic-flavored ceviches, botanas (snack/appetizer), tacos, and entrees.

Mercadito has three different kinds of guacamole on their menu (traditional, mango, and pineapple), and you have the option of getting a sampler of all three.

We opted for the traditional guacamole ($8.50). It was delicious, as always. You could taste how fresh the avocados were because it had that wonderful creaminess to it. One reason I love the guac appetizer here is because of the DELICIOUS accompanying tortilla chips. My theory on food is, if it's a mediocre version of the real thing, don't eat it. I love love the restaurant tortilla chips: thick (this is key), crunchy, and that dense bite you get when you, well, bite it. In other words, I generally stay away from Tostitos and the like.

These are the chicken tacos ($14 -- they also have a killer $23 all-you-can-eat taco happy hour every day), with rajas poblanas, grilled corn, queso fresco, and a tomatillo-ancho salsa.

Perfectly grilled chicken and wonderfully flavored.

These are the steak tacos -- marinated grilled steak with pickled scallion, and a jalapeno-avocado salsa. Sounds simple and not promising, especially without cheese, but the steak is marinated and charred so well that the guac is pretty much all you need to accompany the steak. The char from the grill and the creaminess from the guac gives it a very well-rounded flavor.

These are tilapia tacos, sauteed and served with grilled corn huitlacoche, a dash of tomatillo salsa, and manchego cheese.

Mercadito is also very well known for their modern twist on fish tacos: their estilo bajar (not pictured) -- crispy, beer-battered mahi mahi tacos with Mexican style coleslaw and smeared with a divine chipotle aioli. (They have rose to prominence in the press: check out all the reviews). Get a side of three corn pico de gallo or their deliciously savory and sweet fried plantains.

Finally, wash all this down with one of their specialty margaritas, any of their other tequila based drinks (like the guavacava (a treat at $12): Inocente Blanco tequila, cava, guava, and spice syrup), or a recently-discovered new love of mine (first time at PDT), a michelada ($6) (beer, lime, worcestershire, tabasco sauce, and salt -- sounds strange but so unique and refreshing) and you'll undoubtedly leave here smiling and contenta.

I've been to Mercadito several times so I've gotten to know the people that work there, specifically Antonio, the assistant manager. He, and everybody else, constantly go out of their way to be friendly and accommodating. This time, they gave us free dessert and free booze: flan (which I do not like at all, but my friends enjoyed!) and a round of tequila. Wahoooo! They are great guys (and great managers), which is just another reason why I will keep on going back

This place really exudes a homey, non-franchise feel, but apparently they're doing so well that there's a recently-opened branch in Chicago, and another one slated to open in Miami soon-and the pictures look quite fancy; guess they're going for a different concept. Well, well.


Be happy and Carpe Diem!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Leggo my Eggo? Sure, I'll Have a Wafel Instead

There I was, wandering through the Flatiron around lunchtime, dazed and hungry, uninspired and unimpressed, when it occurred to me: a-HA! Wafels and Dinges! Waffles for lunch! Quite random say you? Not so. Walking up Fifth Ave, I had just remembered that the first annual Madison Square Fall Market, supporting local vendors around the area, was going on just a couple of blocks away. The Madison Square Market is, as I was chillingly reminded by the gracious lady working at the W&D booth, similar to the upcoming annual Union Square Holiday Market that's been going on for over ten years now (I say chillingly because that market always signals the commencement of bitterly and unbearable New York winter weather).

At this mini-me version of the Union Square Holiday Market, New Yorkers can find an array of vendors selling from around the area selling different jewelries, arts, crafts, lotions, and other items in a mini strip of a block lined with white booths. Just across the street is an even smaller section of booths that form a small square, each white booth housing some of the most delicious, tasty, and notable foods found around the area. Foods including waffles. And I don't mean your average joe IHOP or Waffle House waffles found on an exit off I-95. I mean wafels.

Wafels and Dinges (pronounced with a hard "g") was cooked up by Thomas DeGeest, a real iron man who swapped his jet-set lifestyle as a consultant for a chance to serve New Yorkers real waffles -- like those found in DeGeest's native Belgium, and to batter (to smithereens) the conception that every waffle has to taste like a frozen Eggo.

Wafels and Dinges first started driving its school-bus yellow truck wheels around the city in 2007, so in NYC street food terms, it's pretty much a veteran and pioneer (one of the first to use Twitter to inform followers of the trucks' locations) in gourmet food trucks. (Side note: I should really be ashamed of myself because one of the trucks used to be parked outside of the Trader Joe's at Union Square for so long, which I walk by a million times a day, and in all these (2) years, I never tried their waffles. Who knows, maybe I was always full when I walked by the truck or wasn't craving a sweet fix, so I could never justify the indulgence that W&D had cooking way in its waffle makers)

Wafels and Dinges, this year's Vendy Award winner for Best Dessert Truck, has two specialty waffles. The first, the Brussels waffle ($6) -- or, excuse me, wafel, is of the thin, light and crispy variety that most of us are used to. The other one, the Liege wafel ($5), is thick, soft, and chewy--and doughier than the Brussels kind with chunks of sugar mixed in the dough. The Liege is made from yeast to form a dough, so it essentially tastes like sweet bread, while the Brussels is made from batter, lending it that lighter texture and taste. The menu offers one complimentary topping. This booth was totally stocked with their usual toppings (strawberries, bananas, nutella, belgian chocolate fudge, dulce de leche, whipped cream, etc.) and fancy-pants cast-iron waffle makers. I was primed. (Mind you this was a big deal for me because I was in dangerously close proximity to Shake Shack -- on a rainy day -- Shake Shack + rainy day + October = short line. But I was feeling daring and strong - IRON strong.)

Since this was my first time I decided to go all out and ordered the Liege wafel with speculoos (I had no idea what speculoos was before this, but the lady working there told me it's basically a graham cracker dessert spread. It is not available for sale in the U.S. so iron man DeGeesst brings it back from Belgium) It is apparently their specialty-check menu above-and came highly recommended, so I went for it. I got my wafel with speculoos, topped with powdered sugar, and I was all squared away.

I'm not someone who generally opts for something sweet like this (especially as a replacement for lunch), but I was happy I did.

It was delicious. It was definitely a far cry from the waffles found in Food Emporium's frozen aisle -- it was truly a gourmet wafel. You could taste the quality. You could also taste the sweet -- you could convulse in shock over the sugar penetrating into and throughout your veins. Indeed, it was thick, soft, chewy, doughy, and heavy -- in a comforting, indulging, I'm-not-going-to-eat-anything-but-vegetables-for-the-next-seven-days type of way. The speculoos was rich and sweet. It literally tasted like graham crackers or biscuits in spreadable form, with a consistency very similar to peanut butter (so it took some help of the tongue to get it all down....).

This gastro adventure was particularly exciting for me because I had never tried speculoos before so it was something totally new for my palate -- a pleasantly palatable surprise! It was very sweet, perhaps a little too much so when I'm looking for something sweet but small (I guess in that case I could opt for the Brussels wafel).

Whenever I'm in the mood for a sweet indulgence, it's good to know you're there, Wafels and Dinges.

Leggo my eggo? Sure, go ahead. A Liege wafel smothered in Belgian gooey goodness will be my shoulder to cry (and munch) on.

Be happy and Carpe Diem!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hot 'n Steamy in Chelsea

New Grey Dog resto alert?

All signs point to yes: according to Eater and I walked by the plywood and construction on W. 16th between 7th and 8th yesterday on my way back from work. This is pot-tentially exciting and awakening news for Grey Dog fans who do not reside in or around the NYU area. But with the addition of the new Chelsea location, that'll be THREE GD's on the West side. Is there some sort of bias towards the East side? Our fellow East-siders are looking for a pick me up just as much as the next (West side-inhabiting) person. As an East sider myself, I gotta say, it's java-makin me crazy! What gives?

Speaking of work (or not...), I was at the Food Network studio's test kitchens, where the lovely art stylist, Jessica, had to demonstrate how to chisel away at a frozen turkey (a little tongue & cheek twist on a most-requested "how to carve a turkey" question by FN viewers).

Yes, that's really a turkey submerged in water and frozen. Jess used a blowtorch to melt away the ice. It was w-w-wild. Stay tuned for the air date.

Be happy and Carpe Diem!

Monday, October 12, 2009

My Weekend, the Hamburglar

God Hamnit! I was out of town this weekend, so I'm bummed that I missed out on what seemed to be a Grade A quality night....

Burgers to try:
Minetta Tavern's Black Label burger (I know, I know I still haven't tried it) and The Spotted Pig's blue cheese-topped burger (I heard their shoestring fries are killer, as well. )

It all looked so juicy and fun. Sadness.

Next time, my friends, next time.

Be happy and Carpe Diem!