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Saturday, September 1, 2018

Dispatches of the Food Media Elite

Like, oh my god.  This week is going to be super cray.  Danny Bowien is opening up a new Mongolian noodle parlour in Inwood, and April Bloomfield is opening a new bistro in Prospect Heights.  Not to mention I need to write my regular weekly roundup of recaps of critical reviews, plus my regular weekly update on minor openings and closings, plus I need to update the Top 50 Hottest Restaurants in Manhattan (and the other one for Brooklyn), plus my 10 other required filings.  Like, seriously?  But I love this, I love this world of food.  Oh, I need to, like, write a tweet directed to some hot food person that shows I'm funny and sweet, congratulating that hot food person on some incredible accomplishment, like being promoted to chief Staten Island correspondent.  That person so deserves it!  But not really - it should have been me.  But seriously, food is important.  It tells us about who we are and who we want to be.  Food is power and love.  Oh my god, deep!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Mystery of Sal & Carmine's

In the summer of 2000 I moved to New York, my first apartment on West 98th Street near Broadway.  I walked around my new neighborhood and one night happened upon a slice shop with neon signs, signs that beckoned to me.  I entered.  I ordered a slice.  It was great.  An incredible New York slice, with salty, tangy cheese.  The two Italian men manning the shop were efficient and gruff, one slightly more pleasant than the other.  I had had my first Sal and Carmine's experience.

Sal (the more pleasant one) passed away in 2009.  Sal's brother Carmine, and grandson Luciano, continued making some of the best pies in the city.  Carmine, sadly, seemed to decline, but he was usually there.  Luciano carried on the tradition.  Around 2013 I left the neighborhood, but would return now and then for a slice, and Luciano was always there. 

Fast forward to late May of this year.  I went to Sal and Carmine's, and upon entering, Luciano was nowhere to be found.  There was a man I had never seen manning the pizza oven, and a young lady (who was way too friendly for Sal and Carmine's) taking orders.  Normally at Sal and Carmine's, there would be maybe 3 or 4 pies, often less, sitting on the counter, waiting to be ordered.  This time, there were far more, including a white pizza with globs of ricotta.  I hesitatingly ordered a regular slice, but something wasn't right.  In recent years I did notice that Luciano had people working for him, but Luciano, the heir, was always there.  Was he taking a day off, and leaving the shop in the hands of others? 

I took a bite of the pizza, and it just wasn't the same.  The crust was not the same.  The cheese didn't seem as tangy.  It wasn't a bad slice, but it didn't possess the Sal and Carmine's greatness.   Interestingly, I noticed new pictures placed on the wall, pictures of Sal, Carmine, and Luciano.  But where was Luciano?  I started to feel queasy.  Had Luciano sold the family business?

Yesterday I returned and, again, Luciano was nowhere to be found.  The same man who had manned the oven the previous time was there, this time alone.  There was the white pie, and also a pie with lots of veggies on it, a pie that would never have been sitting around in the Sal and Carmine, or Luciano days.  "Where's Luciano?" I asked?  The man said something about not seeing him recently.  "Does Luciano still own this place?" I followed up.  The man seemed a little nervous and said "yes."  Perhaps Luciano does still own but has completely walked away from the operation?  Or perhaps the business has been sold?

All I know is that Sal and Carmine's feels different.





Friday, August 10, 2018

What's in a pita?  Anything you decide to put in it!  There's a new pita joint called Miznon in the Chelsea Market brought to you by Tel Aviv-based pita maestro Benjamin Netanyahu.  The pitas themselves are fluffy, tender, and actually taste like something.  There are all sorts of fillings, some you might expect, and some you might not (cheeseburger, for instance). 

I had a pita filled with thin slices of ribeye - some of the finest "gyro" style meat you can imagine.  There was tahini.  There was tomato salsa.  There were pickles.  The meat was extremely flavorful and juicy.  The juices from the meat pooled at the bottom of the pita and mixed with the tahini to create incredible flavors!  The last bites of the pita were reservoirs of immense pleasure, the juicy tahini waters melding into the pliant, sturdy pita.  Bring on the flavor reservoirs! 

Miznon
Chelsea Market, New York

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Simplicity of the Pizza

It's dawn.  The pie maker wakes, splashes cold water on his face, drinks black coffee, and travels to the pizza shop.  The flour, salt, oil and yeast.  Jesus the special simplicity of the ingredients.  Flour permeates the air, it's breathed in like asbestos at this point, but it makes him one with the dough.  The mixing and kneading, the smooth motions, just right.  The simplicity of the ingredients.  OF THE INGREDIENTS.  And oh they are wholesome, fresh, simple, honest ingredients.  The balls of dough are laid aside to rest and ferment and rise, RISE.

Now it's later in the day.  The helper is prepping, thinly slicing fresh garlic, plucking basil leaves, but no one touches the tomatoes and cheese and dough but him.  The waitress sets up tables, the line is forming outside.  The brick oven is heating up.  Today is the day, today is the day I will make the perfect pizza.  Yesterday, that margarita I made at 7:00pm was masterful, but not perfect.  The marinara at 8:52?  Magnificent!  But again, not perfect.  Can I make the perfect pizza?  Can anyone?  If anyone can, I can.  But is it possible?  Do the conditions of the world allow for it?  This buffalo mozzarella is sublime today! Was the milk taken at just the right moment?  It's so creamy and velvety oh god this cheese is so supple with a slight tang.  Maybe today is the day.

They enter, most of them fools, none of them understanding the craft, the flavors, but most importantly the simplicity of the pizza.  Someone orders a filetti.  "Yes, can you ask the pizzaiola to not create such a predominant, puffy cornicione for my pie?"  Oh you son of a bitch!  Who are you to tell me how to make my pizza?  What do you know about corniciones?

Later, a margherita is ordered.  There is a fresh coolness outside and the air is filling the restaurant.  He takes a ball of dough, and he feels different.  Is this the eighty-thousandth margarita he has made?  He feels it doesn't matter.  He's entered a new level of instinctual action.  He pats the dough, you couldn't say he's stretching it, the dough almost follows his movements, as if it's expanding itself like the moment after the big bang.  The dough is placed on the marble, and a waddle of tomato is splurted onto the dough.  The cheese, that incredible buffalo mozzarella is placed in bits across the pie, not too much, not too much. The extra virgin olive oil is applied.  Something is different.  The concoction enters the oven.  He watches.  Is this it?  Will this be the perfect pizza?

"Damn it there's too much cornicione!" someone yelps out.

--In tribute to the re-opening of Una Pizza Napoletana in New York
https://ny.eater.com/2018/5/1/17306570/una-pizza-napoletana-first-look-nyc

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Department of Pants

Pant Surprise? Part I

Oh hello!  It was an early spring day, the weather was by no means warm, but there was a nice mildness -- winter was not leaving without a fight, but winter was weakened.  I was at Macy's on 34th Street, perusing the Dockers section, as I am wont to do.  As I have discussed at length in prior filings, Dockers has made a come back in recent years.  They are offering a multitude of fits, and yes, the Classic Fit, for instance, is as awful as you might imagine -- hugely inappropriate width and leg opening measurements.  But call me Christopher Columbus if the Slim Tapered Fit and the Athletic Fit are not respectable trousers!

I have been in a dance all winter, trying on various fits and sizes -- for instance, a 38x32 in Slim Tapered, or maybe a 36x32 in Athletic?  And as if all these combinations between sizes and fits are not complicated enough, although Dockers is making some nice pants, their manufacturing process is extremely inconsistent.  You can try on a Slim Tapered in 38x32 in Olive and try on a second pair of Slim Tapered in 38x32 in Olive and the pants will simply not be the same! Same goes for pants of the same size and fit but different colors, for instance a 38x32 Slim Tapered in Olive and a 38x32 Slim Tapered in Cadet Navy. The various combinations offer a range of sizing and fit which is mind-boggling.  In the parlance of modern consulting, this is both a threat and an opportunity.  For indeed, you may try on a particular pair of Dockers in a particular size and think "good god almighty these will never do!"  But then you can try on a different pair in the same size and think "why I quite enjoy these slacks!"

Hence my need to visit Macy's every week.  Who knows?  One week they might get a shipment of Slate Grey Athletic Fit trousers, in which a perfect 36 inch waist and 32 inch inseam pair lives, but I need to try on all 7 pairs of the 36x32 inch Slate Grey Athletic Fit pants to find the particular version that fits me perfectly.  And just because in there is a perfect fitting 36x32 Slate Grey Athletic Fit pant to find in no way implies there is not a perfect 38x32 Deep Black Slim Tapered pant that is not mine for the taking if I'm willing to try on all 10 pairs to find it.

It is a difficult life, the life of a pant enthusiast.  And I don't even want to go into the looks of scorn I often receive from Macy's employees.  "Yes, please bring me out all 36x34 pairs in British Khaki as quickly as possible, and oh, can you please provide me a list of the inventory at your Flushing, Queens location?"  Sadly many associates at Macy's don't take their profession seriously, although I do know of a few top notch staff members who are happy to assist me with my pant needs.

Anyway, to return to my narrative, it was an early spring day and I was trying on various Dockers while enjoying some wine and fine cheeses, but I just wasn't having much luck on this particular day.  I finally conceded defeat and was walking to the elevators when I noticed a rack of slacks.  "Hm, what do we have here?"  The colors were nice -- there was a nice gray slack and also navy. I approached; I probed.  "Hm, a nice fabric and texture -- is this a bit of stretch I'm noticing? What are these pants!?!?!"

Tune in next time to find out!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Chronicles of Cream

Cream of a bitch! I've been busy and have not had an opportunity to update you, dear readers, on all manner of my tastings and adventures.  Well, there have been tastings.  And there most certainly have been adventures.  I'm currently on a deadly mission to the North Pole in search of Porgs (no, they're not just made up creatures in the Last Jedi - they exist!) so I don't have much time, but I did want to provide a rundown of notable recent creamings...

Croquant Chou Zakuzaku, Shanghai China
- This is a Japanese cream chain that specializes in Hokkaido-style cream.  The Shanghai location is located in the gigantic IFC mall, and I waited over an hour in line for my chance to sample the creams.  To be more specific, Zakuzaku specializes in traditional choux pastry filled with elegant pastry cream.  However, there are some modern twists revolving around the choux pastry (there is nothing novel about the cream, which is delicious textbook pastry cream).  First, rather than the traditional ball-shaped pastry, Zakuzaku serves its cream in a rod-shaped pastry, more in the shape of an eclair.  Further, the pastry is dusted with crunchy delightfuls.  What are these crunchy delightfuls?  Some sort of batter-streusel-crunchy- hello?  Yes, hello. The website sums up the approach nicely: "It’s normal to be particular about the cream within a chou a la crème (cream puff). The crunchy textured pastry of the new Croquant Chou came from the idea of making the outside pastry more delicious."  Brilliant!

Chez Choux, Shanghai China - Another Japanese chain peddling cream puffs in China.  Chez Choux is traditional on all fronts, cream and pastry, but a nice cream puff, indeed.

Cream Double Header - Martina, East Village and Le Coq Rico, Flatiron - Martina may be a pizza parlour, but I'll be creamed if the soft serve is not the best thing on the menu.  Partook in a nice fior di latte soft serve with chocolate sauce and candied hazelnuts.  The soft serve is truly astounding: rich, flavorful, decadent and embarrassing. But I had not had my way with creams after only a single serving of this soft serve. I headed to Le Coq Rico, where, again, the main attraction may not truly be the star of the show. Le Coq Rico is a French chicken joint, but the desserts are even better than the chicken! I ordered a mille-feuille - the classic French pastry of numerous paper-thin shards of pastry layered with decadent pastry cream.  The presentation was incredible, with gorgeous balls of immaculate pastry cream lined in rows across the pastry layers.  What a great cream!

Friday, February 9, 2018

Adventures in Juice

I don't know about you, but I'm obsessed with fresh, cold-pressed juices.  God knows there's nothing like a fresh, cold, nutrient-rich juice.  Today I was in the Long Island City region on business and as I walked the streets, all of a sudden, I could smell rich antioxidants and minerals, a smell of fresh, organic roughage.  The smell was primal and organic, and I knew it could be only one thing: the smell of large quantities of fruits and vegetables being pulverized into fresh juices.  I followed the smell and found myself at a factory for Juice Press, the popular cold juice chain!  Indeed, Juice Press mass-presses its juices and bottles and sends them to their numerous retail locations.  Now, to be quite honest, as a juice aficionado, ideally a juice should be pressed to order on-site.  However, Juice Press bottled juices are an acceptable alternative if your local pressery is closed, inconvenient, etc.  The Juice Press factory in long Island City is in a re-furbished building near LaGuardia Community College, and there is a small retail counter where you can purchase a recently pressed juice.  I got myself a "Doctor Green" with apple. pineapple, lemon, kale and ginger.  Ahhh!  So refreshing.  I LOVE THIS COLD, FRESH JUICE!!!!!!!