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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Pizza Investigations

I'm a sad specimen.  Actually I am awesome.  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.


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.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Chronicles of Creams

The best day of your life starts like any other day.  You wake up.  Oh yes, it's another day.  You go through your morning rituals. This then that.  And then something unthinkable happens and you realize it's the best day of your life.

Today I woke and it was a chilly late fall morning.  I had planned to visit Mah ze Dahr Bakery, of which I had heard rumors of excellent pastry.  And so I went.  Two things I ordered: a cinnamon brioche, which actually looked like a fine sticky bun, and a vanilla choux.  For you non-experts, choux is a ball of soft, hollow pastry commonly filled with cream; a cream puff, if you will. And I will.

I tasted the cinnamon brioche: a tasty and tender bastard, with a fine, supple flavor.  Well done.  Next.

The choux was tiny, smaller than your average, plump choux.  It was almost a dainty little choux.  The top was structured with little trenches, creating grid-like canyons of pastry.  There was clear evidence of a sugar glaze which had caremelized during the baking of the choux.  I took a bite and smiled with pleasure.  Was this really happening?  Was I really eating the greatest choux of my life?  I was immediately taken with the craggly top of the pastry, a dream-like, slightly caramelized pastry.  The taste of the pastry was wholesome and incredible!  Usually the cream within the choux is the star of the attraction, but this time the pastry itself was every bit as amazing as the cream.  And let me be clear, the cream was incredible, a vanilla cream of exquisite flavor not to mention texture.  My eyes rolled back into my head and I was overtaken with the flavor, the emotions, of this vanilla choux.  I fell to the ground and started rolling around in sheer pleasure.  People were staring at me.  Whatever.  Welcome to the best day of my life.

Mah ze Dahr Bakery
West Village

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Burger Fanatic

Once upon a time in a remote corner of the universe there was a planet called Earth, and hundreds of millions of years after the planet cooled and solidified, life forms began to develop, and after hundreds of millions of more years, humanoid figures came into being and roamed about, searching for food, warding off deadly predators, surviving day-by-day, never knowing when a poisonous snake would strike, never knowing when a deadly infection would take hold, never knowing anything.  

Many more years passed and there appeared on the scene food writers, first writing in the printed forms, and then making their way onto the internet, where a new form of amateur-enthusiast-professional was born.  To explain the idiocy of these internet food writers could take volumes, but to sum up shortly: they were ridiculous, self-important, and perfect symbols of the absolute meaninglessness of the modern age. 

Sometimes, late at night, these idiot internet food writers would wake up in cold sweats and walk to their bathrooms and stare in the mirror and ask themselves "who am I?" and have no real response. Well, they could say they have x number of Twitter followers or were invited to the latest soft opening of a hip new restaurant or wore really tastefully simple shirts or that a lot of other really cool food internet people really liked them.  They could say that!

Let us turn our attention to one such internet food idiot, Nathan, who recently went to Mr. Dips, a new burger cart on the grounds of the very cool William Vale Hotel, where the creative class stays on trips to New York. He writes: "The burger is a study in simplicity.  Griddled to perfection, the mineral funk of the beef is evident, and the bun is a perfect and simple bun - is it a Martin's potato roll?  The cheese brings a viscous tang to the proceedings."

Wait.  Is this really what the human story has come to?  Playfully writing about the mineral beefiness of a cheeseburger?  Who are we?

Mr. Dips
Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Friday, September 16, 2016

Burger Investigations Part II

Oh, hello.  I didn't see you there.  If you recall, back in July I listed three burgers I had enjoyed so far during the summer: Lure Fishbar, Upland, and MaPeche.  MaPeche was definitely the best.  Now, the thrilling conclusion: I went to Lupulo, Roberta's, and Emmy Squared.  Lupulo - good, nothing crazy.  Roberta's - still my favorite burger I've ever had.  So flavorful and well-salted.  Emmy Squared - good but too flavorful, flavorful in a "we're going to assault you with so much flavor and stuff and you're going to love it" kind of way in which you don't actually love it.  The housemade American cheese was too cheesy tasting for me.  If you love American cheese, you might love this burger.

Final recap of summer burgers, ranked in order:

1. Roberta's: a perfect burger
2. MaPeche: flavorful, great bun.
3. Emmy Squared: next time I will get it without the cheese and I might like it more
4. Upland
5. Lupulo
6. Lure Fishbar