Tuesday, July 31, 2007

{The Menu - 07.31.07}

Coffee + Toast w/ Peanut Butter

Cafe 57, New York, NY

Sapporo Haru, Brooklyn, NY

Monday, July 30, 2007

{The Menu - 07.30.07}

Coffee + Toast w/ Jam

Cafe 57, New York, NY

Spaghetti w/ Roll

Sunday, July 29, 2007

{The Menu - 07.29.07}

Coffee + Toast

Peanut Butter & Jelly

Baldo's Pizza, Brooklyn, NY

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Dinner and a Movie: "The Camden 28" & Stand

24 E. 12th Street
New York, NY 10003
(212) 488-5900

THE CAMDEN 28 is better the third time. Brian Cimagala swears its better the fourth time, but I dunno. I'll have to see. This much, however, is most certainly absolutely certain: Rotten Tomates rates "The Camden 28" at 87%. That's a good percentage! It means that 87% of its collected critics agree: the film is good, if not great. For example, the Village Voice writes:

"Fond, stinging, and finally instructive, the film assembles a comprehensive look back at the actions, arrest, and prosecu- tion of a group of political malcontents (most of them young Catholics and some of them priests) in the summer of 1971."

Okay, okay, you want a lit
tle critique with your synopsis. Let's try something from... what else do we have here... oh! how about a little newspaper called The New York Times:

"Scene for scene, “The Camden 28” is a brilliant merger of political outrage and filmmaking chops, and the most suspenseful movie in theaters right now."

How do you like that! And there's more where that came from: Time Out New York, TV Guide, Newsday, The Onion, and one bumbling column in New York Magazine head a long line of good press forming behind a remarkable story of civic disobedience and duty. It is the first film from director Anthony Giacchino (who previously, it should be noted, gained some small measure of fame on this blog for his family's remarkable red sauce recipe.)

"The Camden 28" is now showing at Cinema Village in New York City--extended into August after an excellent July premiere. If you do not live in New York City (and from what I'm told at leats 50% of Americans, in fact, do not), you can catch the film on PBS's acclaimed P.O.V. series this September 11, 2007.

If you choose to attend in lovely Greenwich Village (I suspect many of you are already checking show times online) you'll need a place to grab dinner. Just your luck--one of of New York's heralded burger joints, Stand, sits nextdoor. And not only does Stand serve burgers, it serves veggie burgers, salmon burgers, mini burgers, and milkshakes with alcohol. I had orange with Campari.

The milkshake tasted like a creamsicle with a tangy, tingly aftertaste. The veggie burger, by the way, made with hearty quinoa, was soft and tasty too. Together, priced at $18 with cheese (on the burger), it's also probably one the most expensive hamburger-milkshake pairings you can find. I'm willing to state it's likely the most expensive hamburger-alcoholic milkshake pairing you can find. Of course, I'd be happy if someone proves me wrong on the latter.

So, with delicious food and dedicated filmmaking set side-by-side, the only question left is: how far would you go to get a burger and see "The Camden 28?" 'Cause MEF! will buy burger and tix for the person willing to travel the furthest! Entries on the comment page, please.

{The Menu - 07.28.07}

Coffee + Egg Sandwich

Dried Cranberries + Pear +
Mamoun's Falafal, New York, NY

Stand, New York, NY

Friday, July 27, 2007

{The Menu - 07.27.07}

Coffee + Toast w/ Orange Marmalade

Veggie Burger + Sweet Potato Fries + Pickles + Sugar Plums

Dried Cranberries

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Dinner and a Movie: Pizza & "The Simpsons Movie"

IT'S ONLY FITTING, while waiting in a long line stretching up Third Avenue to (hopefully) see The Simpsons Movie, that my dinner consisted of two slices of greasy take-out pizza from the ubiquitous "pizza place on the corner." I suppose the only thing more fitting, more American would have been a box of donuts and a six-pack of beer. And bless Homer Simpson's heart for setting that standard.

How was the pizza? Oh, it was okay. Due Amici is conveniently located on the corner of Third Avenue and E. 12th Street in the East Village. Convenient because it's one block away from the Lowes Village 7 movie theater, which is about exactly how long the line was to get into the Simpsons Movie sneak preview. I imagine they get pretty good business most Thursday evenings pre-preview.

The pizza is nothing to write home about (unless my ma reads this, in which case I guess I wrote home about it). Thin crust, about a dozen varieties to choose from. I had one regular slice and one mushroom slice--both were pretty good, but the mushrooms were especially fresh. I wasn't expecting that. Kinda expensive ($5.25 for two slices), but I guess you do expect that in the East Village.

How was Due Amini? Oh, it was alright. Nothing special. A little dingy, actually. Definitely a little toasty with that pizza oven roasting away on a summer evening. There's a full deli on the right as you enter. I had a vague flashback of stopping in once to buy a cup of iced coffee en route to Nevada Smith's to watch a La Liga match one Sunday morning. The bouncer made fun of me for bringing coffee to a bar. I told him it was 11:00 a.m. on a Sunday and that I was pretty okay with my choice. He said--

What? The movie?
Ooooh--how was The Simpsons Movie? Oh, it was pretty good I guess.

Strike that, it was flipping fantastic! It was like watching an episode of The Simpsons on television, but on a movie screen! And longer! With a whole lot of friends! And paying for it! Well, technically, we didn't pay for it--but those of you who do will especially like the gag at the beginning where Homer makes fun of you for paying for it. I'm not sure which audience finds that joke more hilarious.

There are plenty other hilarious moments, I won't ruin all of them here. But I
will ruin two: The now-famous Spider Pig song from the trailers actually manages to get better!

Spider Pig,
Spider Pig,

Does whatever
a Spider Pig does...

Can he swing,

From a web?

No he can't,

He's a pig...

Eat your heart out, Robert Frost! If that's not American poetry redefined, I don't know what is. The other most hilarious moment ever involves a naked skateboarding Bart and an extended sequence of sight gags that maintains the film's PG rating. This sequence is then punctuated by a sight gag that earns the film its PG-13 rating. I almost peed myself.

What ultimately made The Simpsons Movie great was that it succeeded in dismissing the one great fear I had entering the theater:
not that the Movie would wind up being exactly like the TV show, but that showmanship on such a grand scale would require a blander, more mass-appealing version of its characters. No such compromises was made. The Simpsons remained as unapologetically irreverent and in tune with America in a way no other comedy sitcom in this country, cartoon or otherwise, will ever understand.

Still, would it have been too much to ask for a couch gag?

{The Menu - 07.26.07}

Coffee + Zucchini Bread

Mixed Greens + Roll + Creamed Corn + Sugar Plums


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Paloma vs. Relish, Part II: Summertime in Williamsburg

225 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 963-4546

If you think winning the attention of your server at Paloma is tough, you should have been with us tonight at Relish! We felt bad for her after a while. Not really because she was so busy with tables, but after disappearing over and over for such incredible lengths of time we had to assume something just awful was happening. She was quite polite and apologetic about it, of course, and honestly rather agreeable when it was all said and done and paid for.
Anyhow--weather is fine, wish you were here,

As was mentioned in yesterday's Paloma vs. Relish, Part I, Kevin is not such a fan of Paloma. Aside from "trivial" aspects like attentiveness and quickness, he also holds that Relish's food is simply just better, a point on which I've never much wanted to challenge him. It's been a while, granted, since I've had dinner at the Williamsburg stalwart, but my memories of its dinner menu are overwhelmingly delicious. So, last night, Mint and I decided to put the pair to the test, mostly to enjoy two nights of good food, but I was also hoping to better distinguish the duo in my mind.

Of course, I got lost, as always, trying to find Relish (Wythe and N. 3rd, for the record), which sits in the shadows of more half-built luxury loft condos than you've ever known existed. At least, this is the scenery you enjoy walking down Berry Street from Greenpoint; those who walk out Metropolitan from Bedford Avenue are spared the disorienting ghosts of Williamsburg's gluttonous gentrification.

But there sits the shimmering stainless steel diner! At once inviting and promising of comfort, Relish is hardly imaginable inside another shell. And, in summertime, it's hardly imaginable a finer place exists in the 11211 zip code to sit outside on a warm evening and enjoy a late dinner.

Relish's summer menu follows suit, offering all its favorites--burgers, seared tuna, chicken salad--and a handful of lighter, tempting pastas. Mint chose Relish's burger and fries, also requesting an order of calamari; I ordered flounder, blackened, accompanied by a pile of saffron rice.

The calamari was torn between being soft or firm, not a tremendously enviable texture, but the fra diavolo sauce served with it was rich, spicy with poblano pepper, sweet with fresh chopped basil. The sauce saved the dish, to be honest.

On her burger, Mint commented, "it tastes like steak," which I assumed to be a good thing (vegetarians can never be too sure), but, while tasty, her thin-cut fries were hardly the hulking potato wedges Paloma served up with our mussels last night. The "steak"-burger saved the dish. My flounder was all-around excellent, though, a large portion of spicy, crispy fish served atop a savory saffron risotto, a sweet lemon sauce drizzled around the plate. No complaints.

We gave in to dessert (and cocktails which were far too sweet for my taste), ordering a "lemonade cake" layered with blueberries. Thick, warm, simple, sweet, tart--delicious.

At the end of these two days and as many excellent meals, a few things stood out: our tab at Paloma was half of our tab at Relish (note: with two extra drinks and a dessert included at Relish); the service at Paloma was excellent, but far too oddly erratic at Relish to form any fair opinion by comparison; and the atmosphere of each remains integrally distinctive.

At Paloma, you come and go, one of many, feeling perhaps bit lost under its large white walls, or stranded afloat on an oversized booth. Nevertheless, you are connected by the dining experience, if on your own terms. At Relish, you are stolen inside and hidden in a booth or within its walled garden, instantly put at ease by a familiar atmosphere. You submit to the experience.

The question really isn't which is better, but which you are in the mood for. If you want a slightly showy (slightly more pricey) and assuredly good down-home dinner, then the scene at Williamsburg's Relish is right for you. If you want a spot that leaves you be, that offers you comfort but challenges you, a sometimes imperfect but ever-evolving blank slate, then Greenpoint and Paloma are a far better pair.

To be sure, Paloma and Relish make a good pair themselves, embodying the intricate histories of their respective neighborhoods via "Urban" or "New" or whatever take on American cuisine you might desire.

MIKE EATS NEXT TIME: At both, surely. And that was fun. Methinks a Queen's Hideaway vs. Diner post might be in order...

{The Menu - 07.25.07}

Coffee + Bagel w/ Cream Cheese & Tomato

Whole Wheat Pizza w/ Musrooms & Fontina Cheese

Relish, Brooklyn, NY

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Paloma vs. Relish, Part I: Late-Night in Greenpoint

60 Greenpoint Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11222
(718) 349-2400

IT HAS BEEN brought to my attention by Paloma-skeptic Kevin that the one-half the ownership pair and executive chef of the Brooklyn newcomer, Camille Becerra, was the very first chef to be given the honor of being asked to leave the current season of Top Chef. I suppose as long as pineapple upside-down cake never shows up on the menu, though, the restaurant will be just fine.

And after enjoying a few 2-for-1 specials with Sir Hitchcock, Mint and Roxie at the Soft Spot (an outing assembled quite by chance, if you can call it "chance" to find Roxie at the Soft Spot these days), Mint and I decided to kick off a two-night celebration of the end of her summer semester by enjoying a late-night meal at Paloma followed by one the following night at Relish. It seemed liked a fun idea. Slightly expensive, but fun.

It would also give me a chance to compare two of my favorite north Brooklyn retaurants: Greenpoint's Paloma and Williamsburg's Relish, self-styled "Urban American" and "New American" kitchens respectively. There is certainly a familiar culinary thread that ties the two together, and a few things that many folks believe separate them. That, and both are astoundingly delicious. This was really a win-win plan.

Paloma, which serves dinner nightly until 11:30 p.m. (on Sunday to 10:30), was first in line, as it's far closer to home. Unsurprisingly, at 10:30 on a Tuesday night, there was no wait; our waitress gave us our pick of the half-dozen open tables. (This would, perhaps, be a good point to note that throughout our meal the waitress was excellent. Service at Paloma can sometimes be inattentive, so it's a fair point to praise. It's also one which Kevin will undoubtedly disbelieve.)

Paloma's summer menu was mostly standby favorites--roasted chicken, burgers, Parmesan-crusted tilapia, pesto-seared tuna--which we've had before. There was a selection of cheeses that seemed interesting, but we were hungrier than cheeses. So, we ordered the spicy shrimp and steamed mussels with fries appetizers along with the cod entree, and we agreed to share everything.

Shrimp, by candlelight

A great plan--the shrimp were light, spicy and paired with sweet grilled onions; the mussels arrived swimming in coconut milk and lemongrass with thick wedges of potato to munch on between bites. The cod, at first, disappointed me, only as the fish is forever impressed in my memory as Basque bacalao, cooked with rich, roasted red peppers and garlic, a dish I've happily order numerous times along the northern Spanish coast. It took a few bites to warm up to it served with grains and sweet red grapes, tasty but less insisting flavors.

This was all accompanied by a few of Paloma's cocktails, which really are the best you'll find anywhere in the neighborhood, even if the bar, as Kevin points out, is at times fascinatingly slow to make them (you do always seem to wonder what could take five minutes when there are only two people at the bar). The space, also, confuses me at times, being so large it seems like it could never feel full.

Aside from the apparently uber-meticulous drink-mixing, the space I've started to come to terms with. As Camille mentions in her interview, Paloma is, at its heart, a neighborhood joint. It is above all accessible. At times it's food staggers between comfort and higher intentions, but the prices are exceedingly reasonable for the quality and consistence of the kitchen, and high tabs are usually a result of over-indulgence rather than overpriced fare.

Staggering only a few blocks to get home is a fair trade too.

MIKE EATS NEXT TIME: Tomorrow: Relish.

{The Menu - 07.24.07}

Coffee + Zucchini Bread

Spinach Salad + Roll + Grilled Tofu + Banana

Paloma, Brooklyn, NY

Monday, July 23, 2007

Adventures in Korean Food: Pa Jun, Take 1

AN ODD COMBINATION of Jeanie and Becky conspired to foster my newfound love for Korean food. A few years ago, it was Jeanie's office-talk of kim chee. Becky then returned from Seoul raving about bi bim bop. After recently having enjoyed the latter, I joined Jeanie in Koreatown for the former, and my obsession was complete. Jeanie's mother sent me the Cha family recipe for pa jun the next morning:

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup rice flour
5 green onions
Black pepper
Vegetable oil

"The secret to this recipe," wrote Jeanie's mom, "is to use very cold water," for a super-crispy texture. With this in mind, I put a chunk of ice in a glass of water and left it in my freezer while I sifted the flours and sliced the green onions (diagonally, into 1 1/2-inch pieces), then stirred all throughly with my super-cold water and pepper. Um, how much water?

On this matter, Mama Cha instructs to add water, "until the mixture is the consistency of thin pancake batter." This takes some fine-tuning, which is why this post is titled "Adventures in Korean Food" and not "RECIPE! Pa Jun." I used one cup of cold water. I felt this produced a "thin pancake batter" consistency. Of course, there's yet the matter of cooking the pa jun, so we're not out of the woods just yet.

Cooking is simple enough. Use enough vegetable oil to "thinly cover" the surface of your frying pan, heat the pan on medium-high, and drop in half the batter. Cook to golden brown; flip and cook other side accordingly. Keep the heat low to prevent burning. If this sounds familiar, the informally translated name for pa jun, "Korean pancake," suggests why.

My pancakes turned out a tad bland and a little too sticky. The first of these concerns was expected--I used no salt, seasonings, or the more traditional kim chee (spicy fermented cabbage) or marinated seafood on my first try; I tried a little garlic powder, salt, white pepper, and red pepper in the batter and the fried the second of my two attempted pancakes with a little sesame oil to boost its flavor.

As for the "too sticky," it seems to me that I need to use more water. I'll notch up my almost-frozen liquid content to 1 1/4 or 1 1/2 cups next time and see how that works. After that, all I need to do is chop some cabbage, buy some glass jars, and pickle me some kim chee. But that's an adventure for another day.

{The Menu - 07.23.07}

Zucchini Bread + Coffee

Mixed Greens + Roll + Grilled Pinapple + Basil-Marinated Tofu

Pa Jun + Zucchini + White Rice + Leftover Indian + Ice Cream

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Connecticut, Day 2: Salmon, Eggs & Ice Cream

After getting up at 5:30 a.m. to drop Mint off at the train station in Hartford in time for a 7:00 a.m. train to Penn Station (hey, not everyone gets two days off work back-to-back, a.k.a. a "weekend"), I managed to return and grab another hour or so of sleep before getting up all over again in time for 10:30 a.m. mass with Grandpa and the Family.

Afterwards, we all stopped by the house of close family friends Magda and Al, quite possibly the most entertaining and genuinely charming Polish couple you will ever meet (and living in Greenpoint I have some experience with Polish couples.) Breakfast was procured from Magda's kitchen: eggs scrambled with fresh chives, homemade salmon (1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 cup of salt, chopped dill--layer with fresh salmon in plastic wrap and let sit for 24 hours), toasted bagels, sliced sausage, and surely more coffee that can be healthy to consume in one sitting.

The plan for the afternoon was to drive to Newtown and watch some old-timey baseball. It's a lot like regular baseball, only with more 1898. Unfortunately, old-timey baseball was not to be found--I think the story sounds better if we just pretend that it was, uh, all sold out because, um, it was David Beckham's debut game or something and not because we got lost trying to find it--and so we opted for ice cream at Dr. Mike's in nearby Bethel. Which really is not a bad compromise.

White chocolate raspberry w/ homemade whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles

{The Menu - 07.22.07}

Coffee + Cinnamon Cookie

Coffee + Bagel w/ Cream Cheese, Salmon & Tomato + Eggs

White Chocolate Raspberry Ice Cream + Granola

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Connecticut, Day 1: Um, what's... that... noise?

SITTING AT BREAKFAST, before a table set with blueberry pancakes, cinnamon cookies, and two (two!) different kinds of locally-tapped maple syrup, Mint and I were unable to eat. Something was amiss. All around us, rushing through the house from screen doors thrown wide open was a persistent draining, rustling sensation. We could hear it; we could almost feel it. And it was getting louder.

"What's wrong?" my aunt Kathy asked. Mint looked at me. We questioned each other with our eyes--and it struck me! The noise was coming from outside. It was... the wind. Blowing through the trees. Dammit.

What was it, Memorial Day, when I last stood and looked out over Lake Erie? Apparently two months in this city is all it takes to make one forget some of the simpler things in life. You know, like wind and trees.

So, from that moment on, the plan for the weekend was simple: spend as much time outside as possible. This included paddling a canoe around the small lake out back, trekking through the Connecticut woods, and enjoying the fruits of a fired-up grill (driving into town to find a copy of Harry Potter was also included but didn't seem to fit in with the "outdoors" plan).

I'm pleased to report everything went smoothly. Fresh air isn't so scary once you get used to it.

{The Menu - 07.21.07}

Coffee + Cinnamon Cookie + Blueberry Pancakes

Veggies Sandwich + Potato Salad

Cherries + Grapes + Veggie Burgers + Coleslaw + Tomato Basil Salsa + Pumpkin Cookies

Friday, July 20, 2007

{The Menu - 07.20.07}

Coffee + Toast

Veggie Burger + Pickles + Sweet Potato Fries + Balance Bar

Pumpkin Cookies + Peach + Cheese w/ Crackers

Thursday, July 19, 2007

{The Menu - 07.19.07}

Coffee + Toast

Mixed Greens + Roll + Grilled Tofu + Mashed Sweet Potatoes + Pear

Tempeh Sandwich + Chocolate Sorbet

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

If It's Good Enough for the Dalai Lama...

320 Columbus Avenue
New York, NY 10023
(212) 724-6363

THIS RANDOM GUY at Dive 75 told Mint and I a story about once walking into Mughlai, on the corner of Columbus Avenue and W. 75th Street, and shorty thereafter watching the staff go quietly about the business of drawing all of the restaurants shades and locking its doors, leaving a few now-confused tables of customers still eating inside. After a time long enough for a large table to be gathered together in the middle of dining room had passed, the doors were unlocked and held open. A crowd of Buddhists to then processed through. One face recognizable amongst them: the Dalai Lama.

According to our storyteller, his thought was simply: if Mughlai's Indian cuisine is good enough for the Dalai Lama, well, then it must be pretty good. That seems to me a fair assessment.

Now, we'll never know (at least, I don't imagine having the opportunity in this life to learn) what His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso actually though of his meal. For all we know some monk-friend of his in the States dragged him to this "totally great spot" and the Dalai Lama was, like, "whatever, it's alright." But I would like to think that someone who knows something about these matters made the choice because it was knowingly an excellent one to have made, because it was upon this we based our decision to eat at Mughlai.

The menu offers all the dishes you expect to find at a well-reputed Indian restaurant, including a few I had never seen before. I ordered one of those, eggplant in a coconut-peanut-onion sauce, which was amazingly sweet, rich and spicy, and attempted to order another, fried spinach, which sadly was unavailable. Mint, ordering a favorite standby, requested her chicken be spicy. The waiter clearly took this with a wink-and-a-nod, returning with a rather not-very-spicy-having-asked-for-very-spicy vindaloo. You win some, you lose some.

All in all, would I say it was the best Indian food I've ever had? Probably not (although, Mike Eats Food! certainly wouldn't mind visiting the Mallorcan restaurant where he ate that meal, you know, for the sake of the site). Would I say it was the best I've had in New York? I might. It was certainly more creative and deftly prepared than most. And, as we've said before, it it's good enough for the Dalai Lama...

MIKE EATS NEXT TIME: Sure, add it to the list of worth-visitng UWS eateries.