Friday, February 26, 2010

Redheaded Stepchild? I'll Take It!

I enter. I scan. I locate. I zone in.....I hover.

Having a game plan that's not totally dissimilar from the U.S. Central Command's blue prints for combat in war, and that involves hovering around innocent diners, is not my usual modus operandi when it comes to patronizing a restaurant. But it was at The Redhead.

That kind of diligence, focus, and stick-to-it-iveness is what's REQUIRED at this dining spot du jour, located on E. 13th Street between 1st and 2nd Aves, that promises 2 hour waits and the best fried chicken north of the Mason-Dixon line.

Opening its doors in 2009, after chef-owner Meg Grace was motivated to turn her hugely successful weekly family-style suppers that she served out of another restaurant's kitchen into her own restaurant, The Redhead is a unique East Village dining experience that promises real, homemade, Southern cooking like bacon peanut brittle, shrimp and grits, cider pork chops, and fried chicken in a neighborhood that boasts exotic offal and pork bun madness (a la David Chang) and other such international or Yankee (aka NOT fried chicken, biscuits, and grits) cuisine. But trying it -- now that should be top on your bucket list.

On a recent Friday night, just as I expected (since this place has been reviewed more times than the latest health care plan to hit Congress's floors), my friend and I were greeted with a 2 hour wait, and a maelstrom of diners clucki..err, clamoring to score bar stool seats to circumvent the hellishly long waits.

Part A of Operation Fried Chicken: relocate to a nearby bar for an hour and a half or so, exchange stories, then return when it was hopefully a little less insane.

Upon our return, there were still hordes of hungry people, and after confirming with the waitress that we were still looking at a 30-45 minute wait, we moved on to Plan B of Operation Fried Chicken: zoom in to kill..and eat. We spotted two innocently unaware male diners readying to pay their bill. Now I normally never do this (mostly because I detest people who do this to me, but hey, it's New York; it's a dog-eat-dog world out there), but I stood uncomfortably close to the diners to send the message to them that I was impatient and wanted their seats.

They took note of our awkwardly close distance and quickly and kindly wrapped up their meal and got up to leave. As they were readying themselves with their coats and scarves, a lady came running over to try and claim the spot. Oh no, I told her, ain't gonna happen. She was shorter and smaller than me, but I felt no sympathy. Must keep eye on fried prize. I told her sorry, hun, but we've been waiting. She begrudgingly walked away, while my friend and I buoyantly sidled onto the narrow bar stools, grabbing our forks and pounding them repeatedly into the wooden tables, demanding service (ok, the last part didn't happen, but you can only imagine after such a long wait).

We started out with cocktails and the homemade waffle chips with butter-braised onion dip. I ordered the Ginger Snap (natch, because there's ginger in it: Gosling's rum, ginger syrup, and fresh citrus juice), and my friend ordered the Pear Cosmo (I think?? -- citrus vodka, pear-cranberry syrup, and candied cranberries). The drinks were refreshing and chug-worthy. And the chips and dip, oohh -- crunchy, light, airy, and a perfect introduction to the fried chicken feast. On their own the chips were so good I would have purchased a bag to go if they sold them, but the buttery onion dip was smooth, creamy, and with just enough of an onion kick to move it away from boring sour cream territory.


Onto the fried chicken, ohh the fried chicken. Now, I was definitely excited to try the restaurant's famed and incontrovertibly most popular dish, and knew it would be good, but this chicken did something to me that rarely happens: it went beyond my expectations. It was so delicious and divine that I was tempted to cancel my friday night plans with friends so I could sit alone on my apartment floor and rock back and forth, concentrating and thanking the culinary gods for delivering me with such edible divinity.

Upon biting into the fried chicken, which comes with two pieces of chicken, breast and/or thigh, cornbread, and a spinach and apple salad topped with pecans (which are both AMAZING -- the dressing on the salad was gulp-worthy), I was blind-sided by the extreme crunchiness of the outside layer. It's just thick enough to be the real deal, but not too thick so as to mask a poor quality piece of meat bashfully hiding beneath. While people like the exterior of fried chicken for its crunchy texture, you don't generally expect to find as much taste on the exterior as you do on the interior. But you do here. It's seasoned so beautifully and on balance that my taste buds were rocked and engulfed by bursts of crunch and spiciness.

The initial crunchiness of my bite quickly gave way to an explosion of juiciness and seasoning of the actual chicken meat. The chicken was so delicately tender, soft, and juicy, you could almost cut it with a spoon (if it weren't for the skin). Whether it be thigh or breast (a notoriously dry part of the bird) of your two-piece portion, the juiciness maintained itself throughout the whole piece.

It's as if the chicken arrived on this earth juicy; it was perpetually juicy; not one bite dry. This is apparently due to a three-hour salt, sugar, and herb brine, seasonings, and a quick trip to the deep fryer, but I attribute it to other worldliness.

Just look at it...

The juxtaposition of the crunchy and the tender, the hard and the soft, the crumbly and the
meaty, it's a whirlwind of textures and tastes that go blasting and rocketing through your mouth.

I'm telling you, kids, it was something else. It honestly got me thinking about it for days. It's something that catches me off guard at random hours, times when I'm not normally inclined to think about fried chicken, or food for that matter (like when I'm talking to my doorman about my professional aspirations, or when scanning my debit card to refill my subway card)

The remains of the day....

So yes, the wait is a hassle, you can only make reservations for parties of 5 or more (trust me, the place is small, you don't want to go with 5 people), and you may be forced to compromise your morals and values to get a spot here, but once you settle in and take a bite of this glorious Americana, you'll be left waving your Stars and Stripes and clucking with glee all the way out the door.

Be happy and Carpe Diem!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Conical Pizza? Comical!

Love is not like a (pizza) pie; it knows no boundaries.

I'm starting to rethink that truism.

With the recent (recent as in this past week) opening of the pizza joint that serves pizza in cones, K! Pizzacone, I think I now know my boundaries. Occupying a space no larger than your average Tasti-D at 325 Fifth Ave near 32nd Street, people are clamoring to see what all the buzz is about. I'll tell you: you walk in and order a "pizza" and point to the toppings you want that are neatly arranged in plastic tins, just like the toppings stations at your favorite fro yo joint. Some people, myself included -- call us pizza traditionalists -- are all up in a tizzy about this place that's out to "prove" cones can function as more than a holder for ice cream and sprinkles. Apparently this comica-- err, conical pizza trend has already taken Italy and Brazil by storm, but -- and this is saying a lot from this Italiophile -- K! Pizzacone just doesn't cut it for me. Call me a naysayer to the progressive, to the new, to the expanding, but come on now?? Pizza? In a cone? And at $4.90 a cone? I just don't think so.

I imagine it to be an overly dough-y mess, with all the toppings concentrated on the top and in the center, and all the heavy dough surrounding it so you don't get an even distribution in one bite; rather, you get all the dough in one part of the bite and then all the topping in another part of the bite. Exactly how pizza should not be eaten. Pizza, like a good chopped salad, should find all the ingredients permeated all along and across the thin pizza slice, so you get all the ingredients, not too much of one but the same amount of all, in one bite.

I can appreciate the convenience of this conical invention: not having to fold your pizza, not having greasy pizza oil dripping on and subsequently staining your shirt; but that's really what it is to me: an invention. It should be relegated to a genre other than the pizza genre. The snack genre.

But what happened? Why are infamously picky foodie New Yorkers so into this blasphemous new trend? Is it just the Midtowners who are excited about it? (That would explain a lot; no offense) Did New Yorkers become so exhausted over the whole grade A, ovens-imported-from-Naples, D.O.C. Mozzarella-only pizza joints like Keste and Motorino that bombarded the dining sections of every New York-centric paper for months and caused full on pizza wars that they've resigned themselves to spherical dough?

Come on, guys. We can do better than this.

Be happy and Carpe Diem!

Scratchin My Head for SCRATCHbread

Can this guy be my friend? Or my new roommate??

Be happy and Carpe Diem!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Inn Between

.....This is sort of where I am right now with all things piscine.

The sad, horrible, miserable, unfortunate, life-shattering truth is that I am allergic to shellfish (although I've recently tried a little bit of shellfish here and there, and nothing's to hoping). As a way to remedy the situation, one would assume I befriend the next best thing; the next of kin: regular fish. Unfortunately, I do not LIKE fish. For some curious reason, I love the fishiness of shellfish but I sk-hate the fishiness of regular fish. Regardless, a few months ago, for the sake of the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids everywhere, I decided to take the plunge and try fish every few meals I went out.

One such meal was my sister's birthday dinner at The Mermaid Inn.

Located in the E Vill, on 2nd Avenue at 5th St., The Mermaid Inn is sort of like an upscale fish shack, save for the outdoor, street-side dining (although they do have a lovely outdoor back patio that really gets you in the Maine-mood during those hot summer days). A long rectangular room, white painted wooden walls, rickety wooden chairs around wooden tables, and a long bar on one side.

They really try to drive the whole mermaid theme, as is evident by the mermaid "stamp" atop the butter that's the accompaniment to the crackers....

I ordered the michelada, a classic Mexican drink (very appropriate??), composed of beer, hot sauce, and rimmed with salt and pepper.

I'm forgetting what this beer-based drink was, but check it out! -- it's got a skewer of shrimp on it! It's makin me thirsty AND hungry!

To begin our aqua adventure, we collectively ordered the jonah crabcake ($12), shrimp cocktail (a must - $11), and the crispy rhode island calamari ($10). Everything was great (well, the calamari was -- that's the only one I tried; I was just told the same about the other two). Nothing that made them stand out, just high quality and delish.

This here is the roasted Chatham cod everybody! Complete with fingerling potatoes, creamed leeks, and a black truffle vinaigrette.

I ordered the pan-sauteed skate wing with a cauliflower puree, braised swiss chard, and caper brown butter.

Here is where fish-o-philes everywhere have me stumped: white fish does not TASTE like anything. It is my belief that white, flakey fish takes on the taste of whatever sauce it is accompanied with. And I do not think I'll ever be one of those people that will ever enjoy a simple white fish with fresh dill and lemon juice -- ever. Keeping that in mind, I thought the skate was actually quite delicious. It was light and flaky, a perfect compliment to the creamy cauliflower puree. Normally I don't like swiss chard to be that soft and mushy, but it worked with the puree.

Onto the MAIN EVENT...the lobster sandwich with old bay fries ($26).....

...on a toasted bun, not too much mayo, and large chunks of lobster all make for how a classic lobster roll SHOULD taste.

I see you hiding, mr. lobster roll.

Lobster roll remnants....

The other entree ordered was the gulf shrimp and avocado sandwich with chiptole aioli (LOVE chiptole and LOVE aioli) and old bay fries ($17).

The french fries were delicious, crunchy, and with a little bit of seasoning. Just your standard high quality fries.

After we all finished our meals, the waiter gave each of us a mini packet with a red piece of plastic in the shape of a fish. You're supposed to hold the fish in the palm of your hand and see what shape the fish becomes....on the back of the packet are images of the fish in different positions and what those position say about your personality. I think mine was twisted at both ends, which apparently meant that I was jealous, and if anybody reading this knows me then they'll know that this was obviously a sham ;)

Survey says? All in all I was surprisingly delighted by the experience; really great service, good food, and a laid back, relaxed ambience. Now, I don't think I will ever crave fish, but it's good to know that there are potential alternatives to red meat, red meat, and red meat. I have The Little Mermaid to thank for that!

My only gripe? The HUGE cockroach in the restroom. EW.

Be happy and Carpe Diem!