Sunday, May 21, 2017
A stunning April day in Lisbon. The sky is vivid, crisp blue. There is a lovely breeze. It is going to be a comfortably warm day, and the morning freshness is invigorating! There is a tiny district called Belem, west of Lisbon's city center, known for its pastry houses. Lisbon is a city of incredible pastries, and the Pasteis de Nada is the city's great creation, an egg tart of tender crust and creamy, fluffy egg custard. Pasteis de Belem is known for its Pasteis de Nada's and all other manner of pastries. It's a quaint, lovely pastry shoppe and cafe. We order some excellent coffee with milk and tell the waiter to bring us an onslaught of various treats. "Sir, I want to be frontal assaulted by creams!" I scream. The egg tarts are incredible, so delicate and flavorful! This custard is so heavenly, it tastes as if it had been slowly beaten and whipped for years. It is slightly sweet but not too sweet. There is another pastry filled with a creme paste - yes, it has the consistency of a thick paste, with a nutty, excellent flavor. It is basically the best creme donut you've ever had.
Next stop, the lovely town of Porto. Now, I must say, Porto does not have as many bakeries and pastry shoppes as Lisbon, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a delicious creme there. One day I was strolling along the coast, a few miles from the town, and it was a misty day. As I stroll amidst the mists, I notice an incredible smell. "Wait, there must be some delicious cremes nearby!" I cry out. I follow the pleasant odors until I reach a cute little bakery specializing in French eclairs! Yes, Leitaria da Quita do Paco is literally a cremeria which makes eclairs in the finest French tradition. I order a classic and a hazelnut eclair, the latter, which the shopkeeper rightly points out, is much like a Ferrero Rocher come to life in eclair form. The cremes are exquisite. I sit outside in the mist and eat my cremes.
Finally, another noteworthy creme is also of the hazelnut variety. My companion and I dine at the trendy Cantinho do Avillez in downtown Porto. It is a great meal, and for dessert we order the "Halzenut³" - that's right, it's cubed. What arrives is the one of the finest cremes I've ever tasted. There are three hazelnut cremes of various consistencies layered in a glass, and each creme interacts and builds off the other, creating a cacophony of cremes! "This is an incredible creamy crescendo!" I blurt out, unable to contain myself. Many of the patrons in the bistro drop their forks and stare, but the professional server staff seem accustomed to such creamy outbursts. This Hazelnut cubed dessert is an amazing finale for a trip filled with wonderful cremes.
We hope you've enjoyed the continuing saga of cremes. Join us again!
Pasteis de Belem
Leitaria da Quita do Paco
Cantinho do Avillez
Sunday, May 14, 2017
I repeat my opening question: what do you do when you've discovered the best choux? The fact is, I don't know why this world is here - generations have come and gone, and generations will come and go, and for what? But after discovering the perfect choux, I realize I finally know my purpose. I order 8,000 choux to go and return to the creme cave - this will be my final charge. I clean up and put on my finest Wrangler denim and a crisp Target Merona casual shirt. I look in the mirror. This is it - don't get scared now. I take a seat on my La-Z-Boy chair. I open up one of my many boxes of choux and eat one whole. "It begins," I say, and I continue eating choux, inhaling them sometimes two or three or four at a time. I feel the creme filling me, expanding my organs, coursing through my veins, oh god my spleen!! How many choux have I eaten? Two thousand? I keep chouxing. My whole body is expanding - I keep growing - creming - until I don't look much different than the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters.
By now there is no way to know how many choux I have consumed. I know there is no way to eat another choux without bursting. I pick up a choux and look at it. "Thank you for being such a tasty, wonderful, creme-filled friend." I smile serenely and take a deep breath. It's time. I place the choux in my mouth and chew and swallow. For a moment, as my creme self explodes, bursting out into the universe as a big creme bang, travelling faster than the speed of creme, I understand everything.
Mah ze Dahr Bakery
Friday, March 10, 2017
I'm a man who enjoys a fine tender.
When I was a boy growing up in the hills of Pittsburgh, one of the things I loved most was going to TGIF Friday's for food and fun. What did I get? I got the chicken tenders. But as a young boy, the establishment wanted to serve me the children's menu tenders, even though I was a generously proportioned young man. Tenders from the children's menu was not acceptable, so I insisted on the tenders from the adult menu - more tenders, more fries, more pleasure.
The tenders at Friday's were really quite sublime. The meat was juicy and plump and bursting with flavor. If you took a fork and pressed it ever so gently against the tender, there would be an explosion of juice because those tenders were so tender! Once, I applied a gentle amount of pressure to a tender and the resulting burst of juice hit someone at another table right in the eye! "Oh jesus my eye!" the victim screamed, falling to the ground writhing in agony. Unfortunately that poor person lost sight in the affected eye and sued. Ever since, Friday's has had to serve the tender with a sign that says "Caution: tenders may shoot juice missiles."
Anyway, back to the tenders. Yes, they are juicy and flavorful. The batter is also wonderful! A crispy and light batter. The tenders have all the flavor and pleasure you could want, but if that weren't enough, the honey mustard is incredible! We've all had our share of mediocre honey mustard dipping sauces, so how refreshing that Friday's serves a top-notch, flavorful, well-balanced honey mustard!
The fries are excellent and perfect for soaking up any of that remaining honey mustard.
Another nice thing about the adult tender meal is that it was served with a wonderful garlic breadstick. Think an Olive Garden-style breadstick, buttery and warm, and actually pretty tender in-and-of-itself. Double tender.
Saturday, January 21, 2017
But you know what? Most pizza in New York is adequate at best. The myth of the great New York slice is just that - a myth. Deep down we all long for that corner slice place that serves humble, excellent slices. But so often you grab a slice from a random place and your heart sinks as you realize the pizza is just not very good. Damn it!
Sal & Carmine's is a fantastic example of a slice place that actually is awesome. Grumpy Italian men (one whom passed years ago, the other who is not able to do much pizza making any more, now being operated by the grandson); neon lights, tangy, cheesy slices. This is what you want all slice places to be like and you imagine that a long time ago they were, but not now, not in this day and age when New York is not as great as it used to be.
'Twas a mild and foggy late January day and I decided to throw caution to the wind and try a new slice place! It's called Pranzo Pizza downtown, near the Staten Island ferry. I entered the shop and walked to the counter, where I could see the pre-made pies sadly waiting to be heated back up. No pride; no artisanship. Just drab, utilitarian pizza waiting to be bought by the next willing customer.
I ordered two plain slices and the pizzaiola happily tossed them into the oven. "Anything to drink?" he said with a stupid smile on his face. "Fuck you!" I said. When the pizza was ready and brought before me I took a look and became frustrated. Just as I suspected! The cheese had a terrible wettish consistency, the result of using sub-standard cheese and the re-heating process. The flavor was edible but boring and minimal. The sauce? I won't even go there.
The stupid pizzaiola kept smiling. "This is the best slice in New York!" he said. I walked over to him and mercilessly beat him, pounding his head into the pizza oven. He'll be all right....eventually.
Water Street, New York
Sunday, January 8, 2017
Once on the train we braced ourselves for our transfer at Times Square to the number 7 train. Upon reaching Times Square we exited our downtown express 3 train and were instantly greeted by the pungent smells of humanity crammed into a train station filled to capacity with people seeking refuge from the stabbing snow flakes. Oh god it was horrible, but we made it to the 7 train and headed into Queens.
As our train entered Queens and ascended above street-level we could make out the glimmering towers of Midtown, and the snow was shooting down stronger than ever. Every time we came to a station stop and the doors of the train opened we smelled the spices of the nearby restaurants and heard the screams of the people.
We arrived at the Woodside Station and quickly exited. A friend messaged saying he was running 30 minutes late, and we were scared that perhaps he had lost some flesh from the snow. We walked to Thailand's Center Point restaurant and entered a cozy little place, with all the tables filled with people joyously chomping down on larbs and papaya salads. The smell was absolutely thrilling and intoxicating.
We made it to back to our neighborhood and were walking back, and my romantic partner knew I was not satisfied. "If you must do this, you must do it alone" she said. "I understand," I said. We parted ways and I made the lonely walk to Magnolia Bakery, where I ordered a slice of caramel cake to-go.
Upper West Side and various locations
Saturday, January 7, 2017