Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

It's new! It's tasty! Go look!

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Boy, the world could really use another website. There's just not enough out there right now, and I'm feeling unfulfilled."

Okay, so maybe you're not thinking that. And maybe the world doesn't really need another website.

But this isn't just any new website. This is a sensory explosion of beauty, passion and color wrapped up in an efficient 5-7-5 line structure. Lush photos. Tasty haiku. And a new post every week. What's not to like?

Haiku Lunchbox

It's Haiku Lunchbox, and you should go over there right now and add it to your RSS or Google Reader or bookmarks or whathave you so you don't miss out on the tastiness to come.

Guaranteed delight or your money back.

Meanwhile, this site will be featuring some tasty recipe stuff this week, including a high-stakes barbecue sauce throwdown. Excitement... stay tuned!

Cheers,
Miss Ginsu

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7.26.2009

The 2008 Top-Ten Tastiest

The end of the calendar year is a fine time to cast a glance backward before we press on into the new frontier. What went well? What didn't go so well? How can we improve? What should be cast away, never to be spoken of again?

And so, before we recycle the upsie-downsie pages of 2008, here's a rundown of what we'll call:

The 2008 Readers' Choice Top-Ten Tastiest Posts
(as judged by total web traffic)

10. Faux Yo... in which the distinguished food scientist Harold McGee weighs in on active cultures in fro-yo.

Susky Banana Rama

9. A Scoop of Nutella-Bacon Swirl... because we love the bacon — even in our ice cream. :)

Bacon Ice Cream

8. What, Me Bitter?... discovering the delight of homemade bitters.

Homemade Bitters

7. For Love of Chocolate Almond Daim Cakes... in which we attempt to recreate an IKEA classic.

Daim Cakelets

6. I Drink Your Milkshake... after all, who doesn't need a creepy baby bib?

Milkshake Bib

5. Snuggle Up With a Good Label... in which we consider packaged foods vs. whole foods.

Food Guide

4. Top Ten Real-Food Workout Foods... a list of healthful snacks for active folks.

Chickpeas in the Park

3. Bacon + Cake = Yay!... a much-loved post on the combination of bacon and chocolate cake.

bacon cake!

2. Unlock the Salad Code... the secrets of stellar salads revealed!

Salad Chart


And finally, the number-one post of the year, as judged by web readers...

1. On Bread & Butter Alone... a shoot-out tasting of nine rich and creamy contenders.

Nine Butters

Thanks again to everyone who stopped by and "voted" at MissGinsu.com with your eyeballs this year! It's great to know there folks out there peeping and reading.

To 2009! Cheers,
Miss Ginsu

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12.29.2008

On Swordfish Heads & Side Trips

Invariably, travels take people to some big destination city. After all, that's where the airports are, and said destination city is probably chock-full of wealth and wonders, museums and mausoleums.

But there's something infinitely charming and memorable about the little side trips on the way to and from those destination cities.

Is the delight of the small locale wrapped up in its lack of options? Are they winsome because big cities offer predictable experiences and guidebook-ready hot spots, while little villages and tiny towns pop up into your world with no expectations at all? Is the charming side trip completely the product of surprise?

That's probably a big part of it. It's probably also why one person's charming side trip is another person's boring little town in the middle of nowhere.

I don't think one can will or recreate serendipitous travel magic. That said, I will highlight the beguiling little spots I happen across. Maybe you, too, will discover wonder in these tiny map-specks.

One very satisfied chicken
Chicken graffiti in Anzio, Italy.

In Anzio, Italy, just a short train ride from Rome, we arrived hungry. A wander down to the beach led us to the Mare Nostrum Taberna, attractive because it was:
1. Open for lunch.
2. Near the beach.
3. Apparently a seafood restaurant.

Although there were no other customers in sight, when the proprietor told us they had their own dedicated fishing boat that brought back the ocean-fresh seafood he served in the restaurant, we were sold.

Fritto Misto
Ocean-fresh fritto misto di mare

The pasta and bread were forgettable, but all was forgiven when the Fritto Misto di Mare* arrived. Large plates of assorted fresh sea life, dipped in an angel-light batter and fried until crisp and steaming. Even the lemon wedges were fresh, sweet and fragrant, like peak-season Meyer lemons.

Midway through our munching, the proprietor came from the kitchen with the head of a swordfish plunked onto a plate.

Swordfish Head
A swordfish head the proprietor brought out from the kitchen

He proceeded to tell us (in Italian) all about the migratory path of the swordfish, even going so far as to draw a map.

The migratory path of the swordfish
"They follow the same route every time," he said. "So we know just where to find them."

Minutes later, the chef scurried out of the kitchen to reclaim his precious head.

Unfortunately, Anzio does observe the siesta with great enthusiasm, so most of the shops were closed all afternoon. The beach, thankfully, was not.

mmm... gelato

Nor was the artisanal gelateria on the town square, from whence as we walked back to the train station, we scored some of the best gelato we ate during our Roman holiday.

In sum, Anzio, Italy's treasures turned out to be:
1. Ultra-fresh seafood
2. A lazy, lounge-y beach
3. A cute harbor full of boats
4. Really tasty gelato

Worth a meander? Yes. All hail the side trip!

Ciao for now!


* If you happen across a bunch of supremely fresh and tasty-looking little fishes, squids, shrimps and things, you can do your own version of this dish without too much trouble. All you'll need is a deep pot of hot (375°F frying oil), and a seasoned flour coating in which to roll the fish, etc., some lemon wedges and some paper towels on which to drain the crisp-fried results. Sprinkle the hot fish with kosher salt and serve with a dry white wine. Bliss!

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8.12.2008

Seeking Out the Heavenly Slice

We came, we saw, we ate pizza.

That's how you roll in Rome. Carb-heavy. Pasta with every meal. Pizza on every corner. But if you're lucky, you'll find slices that are worth the trip and the caloric load.

Not far from The Beehive, where we stayed, we discovered a good neighborhood pizzeria on Via Merulana. (I was a bit tired at the time, but I believe the place in question was Cecchini Vincenzo E C (SNC), Via Merulana 203.)

Offering indoor and outdoor seating, the traditionally light Italian beers (including a local brew on draught) and a variety of by-the-slice options which made a tasty introduction to a commonplace local pizza style; unlike crisp Neapolitan pizzas, Roman slices are thicker and more like topping-covered foccacia.

Hearty slices and beers at the Via Merulana pizzeria
Pizza with tuna and spinach at the back, sun-ripe tomatoes in the foreground

Via Merulana pizzeria ingredient pig
Shouldn't every pizzeria have an ingredient pig?

Via Merulana pizzeria upskirt
The Via Merulana pizza gets the trademark "upskirt" treatment, a la Adam Kuban's pizza blog, Slice

I spent a jetlag-y second day at Vatican City, a place that requires its visitors to pay their 12 Euro admission and move through the place with quiet, efficient fluidity. A perfect alignment, actually, since exhausted tourists are mostly only capable of bumping along like mute cattle.

The art at Vatican City? Stunning. Slices at the Vatican City pizzeria? Eh, not so much.

The Vatican slices are bready and limp. The cheese is bland. This pizza may somehow be blessed by virtue of its proximity to the Pope, but it's desperation food, not manna from heaven.

Angel Meets Farmer at the Vatican
Angel meets farmer on the gorgeous Vatican ceilings

Harried staff at the Vatican pizzeria
Harried staff at the Vatican pizzeria

A heavenly pie?
A heavenly pie? Maybe not.

To find the a slice that could properly be deemed "heavenly," you'll need to go farther afield. You'll need to walk the streets of Rome's student neighborhood in San Lorenzo.

As superb as they are, the slices at Come Manna del Cielo don't get a lot of press. Do a Google search, and you'll find the place gets almost no press at all. That's probably because you'll find none of the standard tourist attractions in San Lorenzo. It's a bit run down as a neighborhood, and the old man who runs Manna creates his art within a spare, closet-sized stand.

And for what may just be the tastiest slice in all of Rome, you'll likely have no wait at all. You'll probably even score one of the three plastic chairs out on the curb.

Come Manna dal Cielo
Come Manna dal Cielo (Like Manna from Heaven)... And it really is

Manna Upskirt
A Manna slice gets the upskirt shot.

Zucchini & red pepper paste alongside covered slices of broccoli pesto with sweet sausage
Zucchini & red pepper paste alongside covered slices of broccoli pesto with sweet sausage

If you go, you'll find that the public's loss is your gain. Made with the most basic ingredients, this crust is perhaps the lightest, finest cracker I've ever experienced.

Toppings range from standards of the highest quality (buffalo mozzarella, artisanal provolone) to innovative delights (whitefish & orange; zucchini & pepper paste; broccoli pesto & sweet sausage; anchovy & squash blossom).

Fellow customers will take you aside and whisper that what you've found is no ordinary pizza. This place is special. This man is an artist. These simple slices are infused with a divinity that can only be bestowed by one of pure heart and generous intent.

Like bedazzled pilgrims, we hungrily returned for heaven-sent slices each day for the rest of the trip. I wish my fellow Roman travelers similar good fortune.

Cecchini Vincenzo E C (SNC)
Via Merulana 203
Rome, Italy

Vatican City pizzeria
Musei Vaticani
Rome, Italy

Come Manna dal Cielo
Via del Latini 68/70
Rome, Italy
(Tel: 06-44362242)

Meanwhile, if you missed the previous Italy entries, you'll find the Quick Bites Rome rundown here and the joys of Italian cheese-making here.

Ciao for now!

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7.17.2008

Quick Bites: Rome

Buongiorno! Welcome to Molto MissGinsu week. (After all, why should Mario have all the fun?)

Molto MissGinsu!

Arriving back in the states after a recent quest to the Italian regions of Lazio and Abruzzo, I realized there was just far too much in the way of tasty sites and flavors to sequester the lot into just one post.

So for this week, a special multi-part Italy feature splashes across missginsu.com like a paper sack filled with sun-ripe tomatoes.

Tomorrow we visit the goats and sheep in the mountains, but today we'll check out a few of the varied glories of Rome.

Emperor Constantine's Toes
Emperor Constantine's toes at the Roman Capitoline Museums

Hail, Scooter!
Hail, Scooter!

Vine-on tomatoes
Vine-on tomatoes from the market. So sweet! So rich!

A ripening pomegranate
A pomegranate ripens in a random park.

Market-fresh melons
Market-fresh cantaloupe at the Mercato Esquilino.

The Big View

In Rome, the ever-present tourist season reaches its teeming height in the summertime. I honestly can't imagine why. I hit town on the first of July because J had a conference to attend, but given the choice, I think most any other month would've been preferable.

Simply put, Rome in July is hot and crowded. Think Times Square in July with fewer LEDs and better architecture.

But it's really true what they say... there's something special about the light in Italy.

Buttery mornings. Toasty yellow afternoons. Peachy-pinks every evening.

For the traveler, Rome is expensive, chaotic and occasionally frustrating (transit strike, anyone?), but it's also beautiful, multilayered and quite often, delightful.

While in the city, we stayed at The Beehive, a conveniently located spot that offers friendly, affordable lodging as well as a vegetarian cafe with really tasty cappuccinos, yoga classes, wifi, a quiet garden for reading and Ingmar, the very purr-y resident cat.

The 'hive is situated close to the centrally located Termini Station, a hub for trains, trams, the city's two subway lines and enough shops that you might mistake the place for a shopping mall.

The Bites

From Termini, it's just a short walk to Nuovo Mercato Esquilino (Via Principe Amadeo between the Termini and Piazza Vittorio metro stations) a well-stocked covered market that vends cheap threads in one building, and in the other, all manner of inexpensive fish, veggies, antipasti, cheese, meats, fruits and grocery dry goods. It's great option for fresh fruits or for self-catering, if you happen to have a kitchen on hand. (Go in the morning. They close in the afternoons.)

There's good (and not-so good) eats across the city, of course, but our very favorite Roman meals consisted of:

* The luscious multi-course flavor bonanza at Il Posto Accanto... After, You Sing at Via del Boschetto 36/a. Vegetables are kings here, but they also serve excellent pasta and a meltingly luscious steak with mushrooms.

* The good, simple fare and gorgeous wines at Via Cavour 313, at 313 Via Cavor (naturally). Made with love and located conveniently just 'round the corner from the Colosseum.

* The light, cracker-crisp, artisanal, by-the-slice delights at Come Manna dal Cielo... Like Manna from Heaven at Via del Latini 68/70 (Tel: 06-44362242) in Rome's hip student neighborhood, San Lorenzo. (We stopped here on three separate occasions, so I'll swoon over this spot yet again in my upcoming Roman pizza post.)

* And just down the way, Da Franco ar Vicoletto, San Lorenzo's very no-nonsense, prix-fixe, working-class seafood resto at Via dei Falisci 1/b. They'll offer you clams and mussels in butter sauce, whole fish on platters, the house white wine (ideal with fish!) and dozens of boisterous Italian families enjoying dinner together.

The Takeaway

A lot of the beauty of Italian food is based in its good, locally available ingredients. While there, I couldn't help but notice that many of the vegetable sides were simply (deliciously) done up with a drizzle of olive oil and maybe a squeeze of fresh lemon.

So the takeaway for this trip is a supremely simple recipe for Romi-inspired sautéed zucchini (which happens to be in season at the markets right now)... but gosh, you could use this easy, tasty olive oil/lemon juice trick to accent just about any green vegetable, whether sautéed, roasted, grilled, broiled or boiled.

Just use good, fresh olive oil with good, fresh veggies and maybe add an herb like chopped parsley, mint or basil. Molto fast, molto easy, molto mouthwatering.
Zucchini Di'Lazio

1 tsp olive oil for cooking (+ a little extra for drizzling)
1/2 clove olive oil, minced (optional)
1 medium zucchini or yellow squash, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 fresh lemon
A few fresh basil leaves/flowers (optional, to garnish)

1. Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the garlic, if using. Cook for 1 minute before adding the zucchini or squash.

2. Sauté for 5-8 minutes, stirring up the slices frequently to prevent over-coloring.

3. Add salt and pepper to taste before transferring to a serving plate. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a garnish of basil leaves/flowers, if using. Serve immediately.

And, of course, I took a bunch of lovely photos (mostly food, of course) that reside here in the full Italy photoset at Flickr.

Ciao for now!

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7.15.2008

Beer Respect: April Edition

Belgians in Montreal
Now that the Euro is at a record high exchange rate against the dollar, exploring domestic beers seems all the more prudent...

The dollar's drop is depressing (hahaha) for Americans in a number of ways, but it's an especially great sadness for those of us who love Belgian beers. Combine our economic decline with high prices on grain (thanks a lot, biodiesel laws...), and it's practically an act of treason to drink beer these days.

That said, I'm selfishly pushing forward with my goal to try at least one new beer each week and record the findings over at Beer Advocate.

Last month's beer roundup featured two Belgians among crew of domestics. This month, I'm diving into yet more domestic selections from Southern Tier and Smuttynose alongside one cheap local (a Polish import, actually) and a very surprising Irish Stout.

Phin & Matts Extraordinary Ale
Southern Tier Brewing Company
American Pale Ale
Grade: B+ / 3.8
"I'd happily drink it again, but I wouldn't go out of my way to find it."

Smuttynose Shoal's Pale Ale
Smuttynose Brewing Company
American Pale Ale
Grade: B+ / 4
"A sip is crisp with a nicely bitter, dark grain bite at the midsection and back of the tongue."

Lomza Wyborowe
Browar Łomża Sp. z o.o.
Euro Pale Lager
Grade: C / 3
"Lots of carbination... it seems like it might be a nice brew served cold on a hot summer day."

O'hara's Celtic Stout (Irish Stout)
Carlow Brewing Company
Irish Dry Stout
Grade: A- / 4.2
"...there's a lingering flavor that's like moss, tobacco and ashes. It's a fascinating beer... it sort of reminds me of a scotch."

Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale
Smuttynose Brewing Company
English Brown Ale
Grade: A- / 4.25
"A very friendly, drinkable beer. I think it might be nice with grilled meats or barbecue."

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4.29.2008

Supping Outside on the Lower East Side

Dear Miss Ginsu,

It's so beautiful this week, I really can't justify going indoors. Can you recommend any good restaurants with outdoor seating on the Lower East Side?

-Sun Seeker

Dear Sunny,

Have you considered enjoying some impromptu take-out in one of this city's fine park spaces? Sadly, the spots you source seem a scanty selection! And, frankly, I want them all for myself. But in the spirit of generosity and good karma, I offer up what I know:


Side of sunshine with that slice?

Outdoor Tables
Tables that have legitimate air, either on the street or in a garden.

Outdoor tables, French-Moroccan delights and fresh, lovely cocktails. I normally visit for a quiet brunch. The place is positively teeming with sexy, sweaty nightlife and beautiful people after dark.
Les Enfants Terribles
37 Canal St (at Ludlow St)
212.777.7518

Friendly wine bar with really good coal-oven pizzas, roasty eggplant, nice salads, They have a sweet little backyard area.
and sidewalk seating.
Lil Frankie's
21 1st Ave (at 1st St)
212.420.4900

Effortlessly cool, Epistrophy offers panini, salads, coffees and simple Italian treats. Dine outside. Lounge inside. Have a drink and start wishing you could maybe just move in and live la vida dulce 24/7...
Epistrophy
200 Mott St (btwn Kenmare St & Spring St)
212.966.0904

The food's nothing to write home about (think Germanic sausages and cheese) but this place has a lovely garden and an ace beer selection.
Loreley
7 Rivington St (at Bowery St)
212.253.7077

Simple sandwiches, coffees and breakfast fare. A handful of outdoor tables on summer days and another row lined up along the windows.
88 Orchard
88 Orchard St (at Broome St)
212.228.8880

Back in the day, you could enjoy the delightful brunch and dinner options (and probably the best latte in the neighborhood) in this precious jewelbox of a spot. These days, you'll enjoy the same, but you'll be supremely lucky or perfectly timed if you happen to score a sunny seat here on the weekends.
Brown
61 Hester St (btwn Ludlow St & Essex St)
212.254.9825

A little North of the LES and always packed, this spot has good French-North African cuisine, lots of pretty people and some sidewalk seating, if you're lucky.
Café Gitane
242 Mott St (at Prince St)
212.334.9552

Outdoor-ish Tables
Tables in spots that have lots of open-air/open-window dining, if not actual outdoor dining.

Lots of big, accordion-syle windows on a corner lot. Great beer list and really tasty pub grub. A bit pricey, but tasty enough to be justifiable.
Spitzer's Corner
101 Rivington St (at Ludlow St)
212.477.4088

All full'a windows and sparkling with pretty people on a corner lot across the street from Spitzer's (above). The fare is simple Italian and the vibe is more for well-dressed wine lovers than the down-home beer crowd across the way.
'inoteca
98 Rivington St (at Ludlow St)
212.614.0473

Great food, delicious cocktails, sexy vibe. Understandably stuffed to the gills on a beautiful night. You might be able to hit brunch, but good luck trying to stuff yourself in the door after 7 p.m.
Barrio Chino
253 Broome St (Btwn Orchard & Ludlow)
212.228.6710

Just down the way from Barrio, the ladies of Little Giant offer upscale seasonal, local cuisine and inspired cocktails. You'll sit on comfy cushioned seats along airy windows and admire the fashionably dressed New Yorkers that surround you. Make a reservation and try the Swine of the Week.
Little Giant
85 Orchard St (at Broome St)
212.228.6710

A little north of the LES, you'll find the masses lined up around Café Habana chewing cheese-sprinkled grilled corn cobs on hot summer nights. The restaurant is airy, the cuisine speaks to the sultry heat of a summer day.
Café Habana
229 Elizabeth St (at Prince St)
212.625.2002

Good luck!

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4.24.2008

Dear Miss Ginsu: Williamsburg eating suggestions

To: Miss Ginsu
Subject: W'berg suggestions...

So I just read some scathing reviews of Black Betty's – rude service, dirty, etc. I've only ever had a beer in the bar, so I'm not sure how spot-on the reviews are. Have you ever been? Do you have any other suggestions for fast, simple food my family and I can chow on pre-show?

Thanks!

-T.

Draught Pulls at Fette Sau
Menacing draught pulls at Fette Sau

To: T.
Subject: Re: W'berg suggestions...

Fast and simple dining in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Well, I feel that Betty's spotty these days. She used to be good, but I've also gone in and seen her put out really lame food.

Instead, you may wish to consider...

Bozu is very tasty, with fun decor and playful maki rolls and Japanese apps, but it's not terribly cheap.

I like Diner and its cousins down the way, Marlow & Sons, which has nice wine and oysters and the good, simple Mexican fare at Bonita.

You might consider M. Shanghai Bistro. They can accommodate a group.

I really like Dumont and Dumont Burger. Dumont Burger is more of a bar. Dumont is more of a bistro.

I highly recommend Fette Sau for smoky BBQ, great beer and a warm group seating, though you're going to drop some dollars there, and you'll want to show up at opening time to ensure yourself some table space, especially on inclement days when the outdoor seating is a no-go.

For simple French fare, Fada is very nice. (Particularly in the summer when the tall windows open and one has a glass of wine in hand...)

Falafel Chula and its little friend Taco Chulo are tasty and very casual, so if kids are involved, Taco Chulo might work especially well.

You can get Southern U.S. at Lodge and now Egg does evening menus (also Southern-ish).

I've loved the dingy Paris cafe vibe, the music and the panini at Moto (and the atmospheric J/M/Z train running overhead) but some of the servers have been a bit aloof.

Northeast a bit (in Greenpoint), I like The Queen's Hideaway, which is fun and tasty, but it's not so quick. It's more a sit down, eat and chat spot than a pause, eat and run place. But keep it in mind if you happen to be in the 'Point.

Bottom line: I like all of these places better than I like Betty. Betty's for drinkin' and dancin' these days...

Happy dining!

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3.04.2008

Five Favorites: Soup For What Ails Yeh

Just about everyone I know has a cold right now. They snuffle, they sniffle, they choke and cough. And I know what they need. They need soup.

For those of us without the foresight, fortitude or free time to make and freeze quick stock for quick soups (and yes, I often find I've left my freezer lacking at exactly the wrong time), New York City provides many delicious options. (Thanks, New York!)

Here's my Top 5 NYC soup fixes for those days when I'm feeling horrid and lacking the time and energy to make soup:

Takeout Pho

1. Pho Grand (277 Grand Street, between Eldridge and Foresyth, close to the Grand St. B/D stop)

My truly favorite sick-day soup is pho (which looks like it might be pronounced foh but is properly pronounced more like fuh), a gingery Vietnamese beef broth with noodles. It's traditionally served alongside wedges of lime, crisp bean sprouts and sprigs of fresh mint and Thai basil.

You dress it as you like it with the garnishes so it's always to your taste (and I usually stir in a teaspoon of Sriracha sauce because I adore the heat).

I get my pho at Pho Grand because I dig the proximity to J's place and the Vietnamese diner feel. At Pho Grand, the pho is both delicious and cheap, and they'll make you up a quick pack for takeout. They have lots of variations, but my fave is the Pho Bo Lui because it comes with sesame beef.

2. Cafe Medina (9 East 17th Street, just west of Union Square)
Tasty, inexpensive soups and a nice variety of 'em. Choices vary by day. Walk all the way to the back to find the soup station. Ask for a taste if you're undecided. I recently had the chicken chowder and the eggplant-lentil. Both were very satisfying soups.

Rai Rai Ken Ramen

3. Rai Rai Ken Ramen House (214 E. 10th Street, near 2nd Ave)

I love Momofuku and Setagaya ramen, of course, but fashionable and loud or frenetic and bright are not what I'm looking for when I'm feeling low. What I want is a large, deep bowl of steaming ramen soup with dim light and low music. I want it full-flavored, filling and cheap. And I also get a huge kick out of the crazy white and magenta surimi disc that floats on top of a bowl of Rai Rai Ken ramen.

4. The Soup Kiosk at Fanelli's Cafe (94 Prince Street, west of Broadway)

A good bunch of good soups. Too bad they're only open during the day. But you're probably taking the day off work anyway. Choose one off the short list here and take it home where you can convalesce in peace. Or better yet, send someone reliable to go stand on line for you. After all, you're sick. You need your rest.

5. The Soup Spot (220 West 31st Street, between 7th & 8th Aves)

If you happen to be closer to Penn Station than Soho, you'll be better off hitting this soup shack. Unfortunately, they're also a lunch-only option and you won't be the only one standing in the soup line. But in this case at least, business also happens to be a reliable indicator of goodness.

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2.17.2008

2007's Best of Miss Ginsu

There's what I think and then there's what you, the blog-reading public have to say.

Sometimes we agree. Sometimes there's a slight difference of opinion. There's no throwing pans or shouting. Just a quiet variance in our preferences. That's what makes it all so interesting, don't you think?

So before we don our gay apparel and take a cup o’ kindness yet for auld lang syne, let's have a quick look at the things you, John and Jane Q Blogreader, ranked as top content on missginsu.com this year.

power smoothie

Top Posts as Determined by You! (through help from Google Analytics)
Excellent posts all, but if it were me, I might have swapped out Kritamo, Toy Food or Daim Cakes with some of my own 2007 favorites:
What should we deduce from your fickle favorites, dear reader?

You like sweets! You enjoy recipes. You like to hear about food explorations and food discoveries. And in a happy moment of cosmic alignment, it happens that I really love those things, too.

So cheers to you, cheers to me and have a joyous New Year’s Eve!

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12.31.2007

Brekkie Showdown: Beans on Toast

J grew up with a basketful of alien habits, thanks in part to his mum, an Irish immigrant.

Cookies are biscuits. Sweaters are pullovers. Tea goes with brekkie, as well as the afternoon biscuit for teatime. Shepherd's pies have lamb in them, dammit. Oatmeal is steel-cut. The instant stuff in the packets is dust (or if he's feeling less than generous, it's shite.)

And beans, apparently, are for toast. Beans on toast? Why not beans near toast? Why not beans beneath toast? These are not valid questions. Beans go on toast.

Not just any beans, mind you. There are beans, and then there are beans. The beans J recognizes as beans (and craves on toast) are, in fact, navy beans.

Internet research told me that BoT is among the world's best performance breakfasts, thanks to its protein/carbohydrate ratio. Gets you going in the morning with lasting energy to power you (and your brain) through to lunchtime. Clearly, breakfast experimentation was in order.

The internet also told me I should use "Heinz Beans with tomato sauce" (a UK import product I ran across at my local Key Food), though "Heinz Premium Vegetarian Beans in rich tomato sauce" (an American product) could do in a pinch.

Who am I to argue with the internet? I decided to go with the double-header. Beano a beano.

Bean v. Bean

The Queen's Beans sold for $1.49 but came with a slick pull-tab on the can. The Yankee Beans cost me a mere .99, no pull-tab, no frills. Immediate comparison showed that the Yankee beans sported twice the sugar and a bit more fat. Both products promised a tomato sauce.

J said that when it's part of the Full Irish, Beans on Toast is generally served with fried eggs, potatoes, rashers (bacon) and sliced tomatoes. Sometimes a white pudding is in attendance.

As I was hoping to remain ambulatory after breakfast, we decided to go with bacon, poached eggs and BoT with a side of fresh cherry tomatoes.

Making Brekkie

The contents were immediately differentiated on opening the cans. As you can see, the Brit beans sit like little pearls in their pinky, translucent tomato sauce, while the American variety are darker and the sauce and beans share the same hue.

J didn't see the bean pouring process, so he wasn't aware which bowl of beans was which, but as it turned out, we both immediately preferred the UK version of the Heinz beans. The beans themselves were toothsome ("They taste like beans.") and their sauce was sweetly tangy. Real tomato flavor was apparent.

The Premium Vegetarian Beans were comparatively cloying. They tasted less like beans and tomato sauce, more like salt and sugar.

Beans on Toast with Poached Egg and Rashers

At that point, we couldn't bear to ruin perfectly good toast with substandard beans; we scooped only the tangy, tomato-y UK beans across our toast. Truly tasty, wholly satisfying and entirely worth the extra half-dollar.

J was happy. I was happy. I'd even go so far as to say that beans on toast may very well take up a spot alongside steel-cut oats, granola and power smoothies in our brekkie rotation. Meanwhile, I'll let you know if I suddenly begin rating better on standardized tests.

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12.29.2007

Bottle and brew for the bird (and you)

If you're reading this in the US, you're very likely celebrating Thanksgiving with a turkey. If you've heard this tune before, you may have noticed by now that the turkey can be a tricky dance partner.

When the breast meat is done, the legs are overcooked. When the legs are perfect, the breast is raw.*

A whole turkey takes up most of the oven for most of the day, leaving little room for side dishes or desserts.

And how are you going to raise a toast when the light meat is clearly calling out for something crisp and light and the dark meat demands something big and juicy?

I might not be able to help you out much with a crowded oven (though you could consider making the pie the day before and doing the sides on the stovetop), I will add my voice to the masses recommending beverage pairings for your feast.

turkey

Some people just split the light/dark difference by bringing a juicy Beaujolais Nouveau to the feast, but why not pick up a nice rosé or cava for the light bits and a berry-filled red for the dark? The flavonoids provide good antioxidant effects, right?

Here's a few tasty bottles (in a wide price range) I've recently sampled. Everything's drinkable with or without food, the reds are bold with berries, and the bubbly is slightly sweet and simply fun to drink.

Cave d'Ige Bourgogne Rouge $15
Flying Fish Merlot 2005 $12
Villadoro Montepulciano $9
Fattoria di Lucignano Chianti $15
Bodegas Muga Rioja Reserve $27
Oriel "Hugo" Russian River Valley Zinfandel $32
Goyette Cabernet $24
Invictus Cabernet $40

Beer makes a good choice for those who can't take the sulfites (and for brewheads, naturally). Personally, I'm wild for a bunch of the food-friendly Belgian brews, and both Goose Island and Brewery Ommegang domestically craft some very fine beers that would complement bird.

Those crazy folks at Beer Advocate also suggest recipes for actually cooking the whole Thanksgiving feast with beer. Ambitious.

However you choose to kick up your heels your Thursday, I bid you bountiful good cheer and a boisterous bon appétit from over here at Chez Ginsu.

*Some people try to solve this issue by chilling the breast meat with ice packs before cooking it or keeping the breasts covered with foil during baking. I think just butterflying (splitting across the front and cooking flat) the bird solves the breast/thigh issue pretty neatly.

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11.20.2007

Top 10 Tasty Tales of Childhood

James and the Giant PeachI was a lucky little kid. I had parents who read to me and bought me lots of books. Early on, they introduced me to the wonders of the public library and taught me to read, which cracked open the whole world's opportunities.

As an adult I still carry around a whole heap of warm, fuzzy nostalgia for the stories of Rudyard Kipling and Theodor Geisel, the weird poetry of Edward Lear and Shel Silverstein.

Not surprisingly, most of the works that resonated strongly were the ones that featured food.

I vividly remembered poor Ellen Tebbits, yanking up an enormous beet from the mud for her classroom show & tell. I fully empathized with Winnie the Pooh's honey obsession and puzzled for years over Eeyore's ascetic thistle diet.

Recently I ran across the Pennsylvania Department of Education's very thorough list of children's books about food and was pleasantly reminded of the wealth of beautiful illustrations and luscious stories still wrapped up within the folds of my brain.

Therefore, in no particular order, I share:
My Top 10 Tasty Tales from the Rosy Days of Childhood
1. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
A town that rains food! Best. Place. Ever. (Or maybe not?)

2. James and the Giant Peach
Roald Dahl's descriptions of fresh peach are so mouthwatering. Take my advice and don't read this book unless it's peach season. (Now is a good time.)

3. Charlie & The Chocolate Factory
Dahl again. Amazing. Creepy. Tantalizing. All at the same time.

4. In the Night Kitchen
The mind of Maurice Sendak is such a treasure. As a youngster, I remember this book being a bit scandalous for its full-frontal nudity... as if depicting a joyful nude was something base. Silly puritans.

5. Green Eggs & Ham
Who doesn't love Green Eggs & Ham? I don't want to meet that person. I remember back in the day when Jesse Jackson read it on Saturday Night Live. Hi-larious.

6. The Tawny Scrawny Lion
A skinny lion that's never full. A rich, delicious stew. A lovely little book.

7. The Poky Little Puppy
Poky. Clumsy. And absolutely greedy for dessert. That's my kind of puppy.

8. The Little Red Hen
She's a go-getter, that little red hen, and she really promotes the whole "dining at the source" concept years before it was cool.

9.Stone Soup
It's a classic tale that's been told many times, but this is the tasty version I remember.

10. The Giant Jam Sandwich
Peril! Terrified villagers! If only all such problems could be solved with a giant jam sandwich.


Have a treasured food story from your childhood bookshelf? Do share!

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8.02.2007

Gelato Throwdown

il laboratorio del gelato: Avocado Gelato
The avocado gelato at Il Laboratorio del Gelato

Sometimes the food is about more than just the food.

Flavor is a factor, of course, but given food experience is also influenced by the ambiance, the price, the service, the level of love involved in the operation and the convenience factor (not to mention the quality level when compared to other available options).

Recently caught the grip of a sultry spring evening, and J and I trekked up to Grom, the first US outpost of an Italian chain that's fast become the Upper West Side's must-have sweet fix. Not surprisingly, so did hundreds of other New Yorkers.

Milling about in a line that stretched down to 76th street, we compared notes with our fellow line lizards. The couple ahead were true believers, back for another fix. The couple behind questioned the collective intelligence of sixty people who would wait in line upwards of 30 minutes for pricey cups of gelato.

The verdict? Grom is good. Their menu promising seasonal change is appealing. Their Slow Food-approved flavors are compelling. And their rich, dark Ecuadorian Extranoir Chocolate was probably the best flavor of the sampling we tried.

But truthfully, my perennial favorite, Il Laboratorio del Gelato, is still better. A spoon-to-spoon comparison of Grom's pistachio vs. Laboratorio's pistachio revealed more richness and more ka-pow pistachio flavor for a significantly lower price. (A small cup runs $3.50 at LdG vs. $4.75 (plus 8.375% tax) at Grom.)

For some, Grom's uptown location and conveniently late-night hours (Laboratorio closes around six — unbearably early for those with impulsive post-dinner cravings) may outweigh the benefits of Laboratorio's creamy superiority. I respect that. But for my purposes, I'll make the effort to stock the freezer with Laboratorio in those few sweet hours when they're open.

Grom's not bad, but thankfully, there are better options. This girl does not live on Grom alone.

three spoons
GROM (Gelato Come Una Volta)
Grom on Urbanspoon
2165 Broadway (betwn 76th & 77th)
Manhattan, NY
646.290.7233

four spoons
Il Laboratorio del Gelato
Laboratorio Del Gelato on Urbanspoon
95 Orchard St (below Delancey)
Manhattan, NY
212.343.9922

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5.16.2007

Tilapia Sandwich and a Tra La La. To go.

tra la la muffin

I wasn't going to say anything. I mean, when you find something good, you don't necessarily want the whole world showing up for their piece of the action, right?

And yet, discovery was inevitable. Last weekend while I was at the Essex Street Market, I couldn't help but see the signs.

Literally. They've gone and hung big, colorful vendor signs in the aisles. In the past year Essex has gone from dead-cheap produce, meats and fishes to a market that additionally features two wee gourmet food shops and an American artisanal cheesemonger.

The neighborhood is on the make, and the change is in the air. Or maybe that's just the scent of fresh-baked Tra La La muffins.

Ron and Ira run Rainbo's Fish and Tra La La Juice Bar, the improbably delightful dual-purpose shop at the north side of the market that features fresh-squeezed juices, my platonic ideal of the muffin genre and... fresh fish.

They're fishmongers by trade, and on many happy occasions I've gleefully forked out a pittance in return for their hot, fresh, meltingly tender fish sandwiches slathered in a tangy-creamy tartar sauce.

J writes today to tell me that he's been spying on the progress of their new prepared food counter. His Mission Impossible-style surveillance skills reveal they'll open their gates on Thursday. According to his report, they'll be featuring:
Fish and baked goods, of course, but also other prepared foods. They gave me a sample of a savory (and slightly spicy) cornmeal waffle yesterday that will become a serving platform for some kind of seafood stew or sauce or something (scallops were mentioned).

Alas... It looks like I'll lose my super-secret cheap-and-tasty fish sandwich + muffin shack (and my not-so-secret urban market) to the inevitable tide of hungry humanity.

But I'll try to be a good sport about this whole affair. My loss, your gain.

three spoons

Rainbo's Fish and Tra La La Juice Bar
Essex Street Market
Corner of Delancey and Essex
Manhattan, NY
212.312.3603

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5.08.2007

Get thee to The Donut Plant

tres leches donut

Hola, todos y feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Should you happen to be in New York City today, I highly recommend you stop by The Donut Plant. And I'm not even a "donut person," per se. That said, I am a Donut Plant person.

Always in touch with the tiny details of seasonal change, the sandwich board outside The Donut Plant is my reliable source for what's timely. In the autumn, the specials mature from apple donuts to pumpkin donuts to cranberry donuts to chestnut donuts. In the spring, the sign bounds from ginger-chai donuts to Meyer lemon donuts to the first berry donuts of the new season. And, big bonus: the round-faced fellow who mans the counter is boundlessly friendly.

Today, the sandwich board goes Mexican-style churros and a tres leches donut that's crisp on the outside and lightly sweet on the inside with silky pockets of creamy vanilla pudding. It's heaven alongside a café con leche.

How do they put tres leches inside donuts that have holes? I don't know. They're magic, those Donut Plant people. I don't attempt to replicate their sweet sorcery. I just eat it.

4 spoons

The Donut Plant
379 Grand Street (near Essex)
Manhattan, NY
212.505.3700

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5.05.2007

Forget Foodies. Unleash the GastroGnomes!

The New York Times published an article today that features "The Foodie Scene in the Twin Cities," the subhead for which proclaims, "In another sign of a cultural awakening, dining out in this city of sensible industry is no longer confined to steakhouses."

Sitting on the couch this morning, I read this line aloud with ill-hidden outrage.
Confined to steakhouses? Seriously? Did the writer actually visit MSP? I lived thereabouts for close to ten years and I can't remember ever eating at a steakhouse.

My sweetheart chuckled from his desk a few feet away. Having already read the piece, he knew my boiling blood wouldn't cool a bit as the thesis statement of said article became clear.

As it happens, the "Foodie Scene" covered in the Times refers almost entirely to some recent "celebrity chef" action. Oh sure, there's a passing reference to one of the excellent farmers' markets and to Chef Brenda Langton, a Minneapolis fixture who's been cooking tasty things as long as I can remember, but as far as the Times is concerned, the term "foodie" seems to be confined to those looking for high-end five-to-seven course prixe fix dining directed from on high by the new gods of expense account cuisine (Wolfgang Puck and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, in this case).

Why all the rage? Well, if I knew nothing about the Twin Cities (and honestly, that's true of the majority of New Yorkers I've met), I might read that article and think to myself, "Thank heaven for those bold, selfless celebrity chefs. How else would a backwater like that learn any kind of appreciation for organic and regional ingredients? God bless Wolfgang and Jean-Georges."

All of which is complete and utter hogwash. But wait... is it possible that they mean something different by the word "foodies?"

With that thought in mind, it seems the foodies of the Times eat exclusively at tables with very high thread-count coverings. Said foodies would also have to have completely forgotten Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson who ran Restaurant Aquavit in Minneapolis (and NYC) until recently. And they'd have to be blind to places like La Belle Vie, whose chef, Tim McKee, was recognized by Gourmet, James Beard and the local City Pages. (And for that matter, I recommend that those seeking guidance on MSP just skip the Times and read the City Pages food reviews. They know all the best things going.)

I could go on, but I feel we should get back to business: "Foodie." I've never liked the word. It just sounds dumb. Like someone affixed a vowel sound to a random noun to make a label. It's what little kids do to form insults.

They can have that word. I just want to clarify that "Foodie Scene" as used in the article mentioned above should be read as the "Status Dining Scene."

On the other hand, I feel that those people who are dedicated to ferreting out and exploring the world of tasty, exciting, horizon-expanding foods available any a given place should be called something else.

"Gourmets" sounds flaccid and snobby. "Epicurians" seems accurate, but it comes off as a tad stiff. "Chowhounds" isn't bad, but it's rather specific. I'm going to go with something more like "Gastronomes," which conjures up an image of an army of garden gnomes armed with forks and knives, ready to explore and devour. Unleash the Gastro-Gnomes! (A bit terrifying, isn't it?)

Where do the Gastrognomes of Minneapolis-St. Paul eat? In many places, as it turns out. Ask a few. They'll tell you. In that spirit, I'll list just a handful of my favorite Twin Cities food spots:

The Midtown Global Market, where you'll now find a killah combination of cheap+tasty, including Manny's Tortas, Holy Land and La Loma, the home of tasty tamales.
920 E Lake St
Minneapolis
612.872.4041

One-stop picnic shop: The Wedge Co-Op, where you can get a loaf of bread, a fresh-pressed fruit juice, an array of treats and be on your way to the Sculpture Garden for lunch.
2105 Lyndale Avenue South
Minneapolis MN, 55405
612-871-3993

The improbable Sea Salt Eatery for fish sandwiches and crab cakes that have no right to be so tasty. Be warned: They're only open in the good months.
4825 Minnehaha Ave
Minneapolis
612.721.8990

Ted Cook's 19th Hole Barbeque — Classic baked beans, cornbread, greens and saucy barbecue. Worth getting lost on the residential streets trying to find it? Hell yeah.
2814 E 38th St
Minneapolis
612.721.2023

Victor's 1959 Cafe Eggs with black beans and fried yuca? Toast with guava jelly? Yeah, I'm in.
3756 Grand Ave S
Minneapolis
612.827.8948

Hell's Kitchen, which makes awesome bison sausage and their signature brunchy treat: the luxe Mahnomin Porridge.
89 South 10th St
Minneapolis
612.332.4700

Emily's Lebanese Deli I've been trying for close to 6 years to make tabbouleh that tasty...
641 University Ave NE
Minneapolis
612.379.4069

Blue Nile I'm a sucker for Ethiopian. Mmm... Stew.
2027 E Franklin Ave
Minneapolis
612.338.3000

Surdyk's wine + cheese shop extraordinaire
303 East Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis
612.379.3232

Rustica Bakery Breads, rolls and pastries made with love, skill and a bonus helping of tastiness.
816 W 46th St
Minneapolis
612.822.1119

A Baker's Wife's Pastry Shop Unassuming, inexpensive, impressive. Get a tart.
4200 28th Ave S
Minneapolis
612.729.6898

Coffee Gallery at Open Book. This listing really isn't all about the food. There aren't many things I crave more than Books + Coffee. Open Book is an amazing resource for anyone who loves books and enjoys seeing how they're constructed.
1011 Washington Ave S
Minneapolis
612.215.2626

Bayport Cookery Okay, so it's actually a stone's throw from MSP. But my lord, people... they host a morel fest. It's damn tasty and not terribly expensive. Make the trip. These guys were doing sustainable, local cuisine before it was cool.
328 5th Ave N
Bayport, MN
651.430.1066

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4.29.2007

The Hedonista Hundred, Part IV: 16-21

Yeah, I've been slacking a bit on my previously stated mission to share 100 wonderful and tasty things. Sorry about that. I'm resolving to be more consistent.

But I know ya'll like pretty pictures, so my (very slowly growing) directory of really awesome food things continues today with five succulent snacks in a pretty little photo essay.

If you've missed the count from 1-5, 6-10 or 11-15, you'll find 'em at the archive page. Meanwhile...

chocolate-covered orange
16. Nuts and candies from The Sweet Life, 63 Hester St (at Ludlow), NYC

Wheelhouse Bread & Butter Pickles
17. The fine brines from Wheelhouse Pickles, representing in Brooklyn, yo.

Mexicali avocados
18. Creamy little Mexicali avocados from Ferry Marketplace in San Francisco.

Oaxacan tamales at La Loma, Minneapolis
19. Oaxacan tamales at La Loma in Minneapolis.

Chili-Lime Mango Slices
20. Chili-lime mango slices from a street vender along Grand street just below the Broadway Junction JMZ subway stop in Brooklyn.

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1.01.2007

Sea and Crumpets

J, a mouth on the move between Seattle and San Jose this week, reports in from the field (or dock, as it were) on a subject dear to my stomach: quality brekkie.

First good brekkie of the trip today. There's a place at Pike
Market
called The Little Crumpet Shop that rocks unconditionally.

$1.50 for a mug of unlimited refills of freshly brewed loose leaf
tea, $3 for a bowl of groats(!) with honey, milk and currants. Mmm.

My insides are so happy. They had the usual little sign about not
bringing outside food into the place, but they wrote in special
permission to bring fresh fruit from the market. Aw.

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11.08.2006

Caracas Arepa Bar: Now featuring twice the yum.

Arepas!
Hot, crispy arepas

banana batida
A batida that's built for two

There are only a handful places that I feel meet the test of "consistently delicious bang for the buck," and that's kind of a shame.

I know it's tough to run a restaurant day in, day out, while maintaining high quality, infusing the food with love, and making everyone feel welcome and valued (not to mention trying to turn a buck in the process), but as a diner, that's what I'm seeking. I have high standards, namely: I want them to care about the food, and I want to feel as though the food is as delicious as (or, gosh, maybe even better than) what I could make at home.

I hope I'm not jinxing my good luck as I type this, but Caracas has always delivered the goods. On nearly every occasion I've had opportunity to visit their cozy East Village shop, there's always been a line of the hungry salivating just outside the door. After getting through the skinny door and squeezing behind a tiny table, I've always found the breathless staff to be friendly folks with agile bodies that maneuver with masterful elasticity between tight bag-filled corridors and stabbing table edges.

The arepas — crisp corn cakes opened like steaming round envelopes and stuffed with all manner of tasty fillings — are fresh, hot, and made to order, as they should be. The salads are crisp and inviting. There's food for my vegetarian friends and food for my meat freaks. The batidas (light shakes) are thick, cool and creamy. The lunch specials include fresh juice and your choice of arepas with a side of either soup or salad, all for slightly less than a ten-spot. (Why, oh why do I work in Queens when such delights beckon in the East Village?)

Leaving Caracas, I slide out the door (seeing the patiently hungry on the outdoor bench eye my newly emptied table) and stretch out in the sunshine on the nearby corner at 7th Street and 2nd Avenue feeling satisfied. Full, but not gluttonously so. Satiated and ready to take on the afternoon.

And now, Caracas is doubly delightful. With expansion in a storefront just two buildings away from the original nest, there's extra seating and reduced waiting in the new spot and a to-go counter in the old (though it seems you can still grab a table and eat there for lunch).

Best of all — despite nail-biting nervousness over potential growing pains in one of my favorite spots — success appears not to have spoiled the magic. Ah do believe there's still a great deal of love in them there arepas.

4 spoons

Caracas Arepa Bar
Caracas Arepa Bar on Urbanspoon
91 East 7th Street
East Village, NYC
212.228.5062

2008 UPDATE! There's now a Caracas branch in Williamsburg, BK (291 Grand St.) More space, same great food. Yay!

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8.06.2006

Swept up in the Mistral

Ramble down the length of Sant Antoni, and you'll spot a beguiling little bakery with a name that conjures a cool mountain wind whipping across the Mediterranean.

The windows are lined with temptations, and yet, you may hesitate. After all, you've been burned before, haven't you? Croissants made with vegetable shortening. Cloying pastries. Loaves that seem artisanal at first, only to later reveal loveless manufacture.



Fear not, hungry one! Mistral's squat peasant loaf has a stone-oven crispy exterior and a chewy, slightly tangy bite that fills the mouth with the flavors of warm grain. Have 'em slice it, pair with a friendly neighborhood cheese and you've got a picnic on the fly.



But wait... have they burnt the brioche? No, dear — that dark, buttery pastry is twice-baked to cultivate a crispy demeanor that dances blithely across the edge of bitterness. (Think: Stephen Colbert on a good day.) It's not one for the kids, but you, lover of biting greens, tannic wines and bold stouts, will revel in its depth. It wants... a cortado, a latte, a cup of chocolate to complement its sophisticated flavor and inviting crunch.

Alas... if only the Mistral blew its delights a bit closer to Brooklyn.



Forn de Pa Mistral
Ronda Sant Antoni 96
(or Torres i Amat 7)
Barcelona
93.301.80.37
Tel./Fax: 93.302.41.39

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5.31.2006