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Sunday, May 21, 2017

A Brief History of Creme: Portugal

Welcome to a "Brief History of Creme."  In this series, we explore the great creme traditions of the world.  Today's exploration will take us to the shores of Portugal, off the coast of...Portugal.  Sit back, relax and enjoy A Brief History of Creme: Portugal.

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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.

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We hope you've enjoyed the continuing saga of cremes.  Join us again!

Pasteis de Belem
Lisbon, Portugal

Leitaria da Quita do Paco
Porto, Portgual

Cantinho do Avillez
Porto, Portugal




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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Cream Explosion Forever

What do you do when you've discovered the best choux?  You take a bite, and the pastry is light, tender and so flavorful, and the vanilla creme inside is perfect.  You bite into the ball of pleasure and creme squirts everywhere.  "Oh, excuse me sir, I didn't mean to squirt you with my creme!" Normally when this happens people are upset, but the creme from this choux is so amazing that the victim just smiles and licks the creme off his face.

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
West Village

Friday, March 10, 2017

Tender

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.

Hi.

TGIF Friday's
Locations worldwide

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Pizza Investigations

When I moved to New York I did not know anyone, and I had 2 weeks before my job started, so I journeyed around the city trying pizza.  I went to many of the celebrated pizzerias and had excellent pizza.

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.

Pranzo Pizza
Water Street, New York

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Snow Thai Adventure

A snow system moved in unexpectedly and increased in intensity.  At first the National Weather Service called for 1 to 3 inches, but soon it was apparent this storm would dump closer to 6 inches of the white stuff.  Crystal flakes fell upon the city and its thousands of streets and buildings and the canyons of Manhattan shimmered.

Thai in Queens had been planned for that evening with my romantic partner and some of our various crews. We would be venturing to an establishment called Thailand's Center Point, just a block away from the more well-known SriPraPhai.

Now, one of my favorite things is to venture into Queens on international food adventures, especially when it's snowing.  One of the most thrilling things is to ride on the 7 train and see the towers of Manhattan across the river as you move into the deep crannies of Queens with its vibrant immigrant neighborhoods.
Around mid-afternoon some friends started sending frantic messages.  "Are we still going on this adventure, despite the snow storm?" they asked.  "Of course, you fools!" I replied.  Sometimes weak men need a strong leader to lay down the law.  The law was laid.

At around 6pm my romantic partner and I headed to the train station, where we would board a number 2 or 3 express train downtown to 42nd Street Times Square, and from there connect to the fabled 7 train.  As we walked to the station the snow beat down on us like sharp crystals as if fired from a laser snow gun.  People all around us screamed in agony:  "oh jesus the snow is ripping my flesh off!" they cried, but we pushed on.

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.
One friend had already arrived, and my romantic partner and I grabbed a seat with him at the bar and opened up our own imbibements we had brought to this BYOB establishment.  We regaled each other with tales of our adventures.  Soon another friend arrived, and eventually our last two friends came with only minor flesh disfigurement.  We were seated and immediately began ordering.  "Your finest larbs for the table!"  I commanded to the waitress.

What is a larb you ask?  Well I'll tell you!  A larb is an amazing thai meat salad!  The meat is cut up into small pieces, sometimes ground, and typically mixed with lime juice, chili, garlic, cilantro and other various herbs, sauces and seasonings!

The larbs and other dishes at Thailand's Center Point were great.  An "egg sandwich" was two scrambled egg omelettes serving as the "bread" with a savory pork stew wedged between the fluffy egg bastards.  A crispy prawn dish was amazingly flavorful, so flavorful I screamed out "OH MY GOD THIS IS SO FLAVORFUL!"

At the end of the bounty of dishes we sat in plump happiness passing gas amongst friends.  "Let's open another bottle of wine" someone said.  I had to admit I still felt hungry, and began glancing at the menu.  Our waitress, exhausted, mentioned we had 20 minutes to order something else before the kitchen closed.  We ended up ordering "Jurassic Pork," a delightful fried pork belly dish 65 million years in the making.  It was a wonderful finale, the crispy and delicately fried pork belly served with a bright, flavorful lime and green chili sauce.

Now the meal was finished.  But was it?  We had not had dessert!  My compatriots were completely ravaged, however, and could not join me on this final adventure. We left (were kicked out of) the restaurant and walked to the train, the snow had stopped and there was a peaceful calm.  As the train traveled,  various friends left at various points until it was just my romantic partner and I.  All I could think about was dessert.

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.

When I arrived home my partner had locked herself in the bedroom, not willing to witness this final destruction.  I collapsed onto the floor and greedily consumed my cake barehanded, taking great pleasures in the moist, slightly sweet and buttery cake.  The icing had an amazing caramel flavor!

It was all over.  I crawled to the window and hoisted myself up so I could look outside and see the snowy world, in which so many great adventures are possible, so many adventures I already have had and so many more, goodness willing, I have yet to partake in.

Thailand's Center Point
Woodside, Queens

Magnolia Bakery
Upper West Side and various locations

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Winter Thai Hello

A steady, fast yet peaceful snow is dropping from the heavens, falling on the city.  All is white and peaceful.  Tonight, my crew and I venture into Queens for Thai food and adventure.  Into the mysterious, exotic borough we will go, looking for Thai sauces and peppers, sizzly intoxications infused with soy and garlic and lime.  Into the snowy mystery we go.

Hi.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Chronicles of Creams (Addendum)

Yes, hello.  In my prior chronicle, I described my trip to Mah ze Dahr bakery in the West Village.  Specifically, I explained in detail the vanilla choux pastry, which was - I think - one of the greatest pastries I've ever had.  But something has been bothering me and I'd like to tell you about my innermost fears.  I've been worried I did not adequately explain what a choux pastry is.  If you've had the pleasure of indulging in choux, then what I wrote most likely did the trick and you knew what I was talking about.  But what about for someone who has never had or even heard of choux?  Would that person understand what choux is from reading my post?  I believe this issue is further compounded with the term "choux" itself: does the term "choux" refer to just the pastry, or does it refer to the pastry and the cream filling?  Yes, choux is often - usually - maybe always - filled with a cream or custard, but it doesn't need to be, does it?.  A person could just eat the pastry and not have it filled with cream.  Anyway, what I need the reader to understand is that there is a) the pastry, a soft, pliant, thinnish pastry that is shaped as a sphere and then inside the pastry sphere, within but separate from the choux pastry itself, b) there is the cream.  Pastry and cream, cream and pastry.  Do you understand?  And as I mentioned in the chronicle, usually the pastry is just fine but the cream is the real star.  But not so for Mah ze Dahr's vanilla pastry: the pastry was every bit as delicious as the cream within the pastry.  Do you understand?   Tell me you understand.