Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

The Untold Delights of Duluth

Gooseberry Falls

The Big View

Ah, Duluth... So much easier to say than, say Keegewaquampe (though in truth, the Chippewa kind of had first dibs on naming rights).

Mum and I met up in Minneapolis and pushed north to take in the promised delights of the Lake Superior region. And delight there was.

We were only there overnight, so I won't be revealing any state secrets here, but I will say that if only famed Kentucky Representative J. Proctor Knott had been able to join our foray, his bitter (though humorous) rant on The Untold Delights of Duluth might have contained more odes to pie and fewer snide remarks about the natives and the bison.

But we'll get to the pie soon enough...

First Stop: Pine City. Every road trip needs a coffee break, and you could do worse than to stop by Java Joe's Bistro in Pine City (take the town's second northbound exit unless you're amped to take the ten-minute town tour).

Java Joe's

With a charming moose head on the wall, homey decor and a fine baker at work in the kitchen, Joe's is welcoming for the road-weary traveler. I recommend splitting one of their enormous muffins over your java.

From Joe's you can cruise along historic Highway 61 (if you're a Bob Dylan junkie) or get back on 35N and make for the lake.

Historic Brass Tubing at Fitger's Brewery

Mom and I splurged for this trip and stayed at Fitger's Inn, an 1880s brewery that was renovated into a hotel with an attached complex of shops, restaurants and an operating microbrewery.

It was a fascinating place to stay, with heaps of historic detail as well as Fitger's very modern microbrew pub built right into the experience.

Immediate access from our room to Duluth's lakeside boardwalk made for both a charming twilight stroll as well as a gorgeous morning jog the following day.

The Bites

Just down the way from Fitger's you'll find Sir Benedict's Tavern on the Lake, a sweet little pub with an exceedingly friendly staff who served us tasty soups and high-piled sandwiches (don't miss their spicy honey mustard).

Al Fresco Lunch at Sir Benedicts

As you can see in the photo evidence above, I got the bacon-avocado sandwich and chicken wild rice soup with a seasonal Leinkugel's, and ate it under the canopy of a gorgeous spring day... a pairing I'd recommend without reservation.

When visiting Duluth, you really can't miss a lakeside drive to see the lovely, lonely lighthouses, Gooseberry Falls State Park and, of course there must be a stopover at Betty's Pies when you're done hiking "those vast and fertile pine barrens."

Betty's serves other stuff, of course. You can get a full meal there if you want to. But clearly, you'd do well to save space for dessert. The place isn't called Betty's Meatloaf.

Betty's Pies

And yes... you do want it a la mode. The ice cream is real and it's real good. Mom and I sampled the Bumbleberry (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries) and the Great Lakes pie (a combo of apple, blueberry, rhubarb, strawberry and raspberry), and both were superb.

When dinnertime rolled around, Duluth offered up a cornucopia of interesting options (check Chowhound for the frontrunners), but we opted to stay on Superior Street and entrusted ourselves to the historic Pickwick Restaurant.

I was dying for a plate of simply cooked trout and tender-crisp vegetables alongside a quality beer, and the Pickwick provided. Mom chose a barbecued shrimp dish, which was far too sweet and gooey for me, (though I admit that might have be someone's ideal preparation). They do seem to offer a wide variety of American classics, and the beers are good.

The Takeaway

While swooning over the tangy fruit and pastry crust of Betty's Pies, I realized that it'd been forever since I'd eaten a slice of pie that wasn't my own or the work of someone I knew personally. And there's one big reason for this: canned fillers.

It's a darn shame, but most places make pies with gelatinous canned pie filler. Why? It's cheap, easy and few people complain.

In fact, if restaurants charged what Betty's charges for its slices of pie (get ready to shell out six bucks a slice) people would complain.

But the truth is... when it comes to pie, you get what you pay for. So if you love pie, find a trustworthy baker and pay well, or make your own. Betty's inspired me with their multi-fruit combinations, so here's a pie inspired by their delicious Bumbleberry Crunch, a combo that happens to be in season at the moment

Betty's Pie a la mode

Quadberry Crumble Pie (Makes one pie)
1 9-inch single-crust pie shell
4 cups (1 quart) fresh berries (any combo of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and sliced strawberries)
1/2 cup white sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp lemon zest (optional)
Crumble Topping (see below for recipe)
Vanilla ice cream, for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. In large bowl, blend together the sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and zest (if using).
3. Add the berries to the bowl and toss gently to coat.
4. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell and sprinkle evenly with the Crumble Topping.
5. Gently place the pie on a baking sheet, and bake for about 45-50 minutes or until the crust is a deep golden brown color and the juices are thickened and bubbling.
6. Move the baked pie to a wire rack to cool for several hours. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.

Crumble Topping
3 Tbsp flour
4 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
1 dash salt
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup pecans, walnuts or pistachios, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup chilled butter, cut in 1/2" pieces

1. In a mixing bowl, blend together flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt, oats and nuts.
2. Cut the butter into the mixture with a fork until the blend resembles a uniform gravel. Sprinkle atop the pie filling and bake as directed above.

Love pictures? Who doesn't? You can see the full Duluth Photo Set here.

Meanwhile, Happy Trails!
Miss Ginsu

Java Joe's Bistro
Java Joe's Bistro on Urbanspoon
1300 Northridge Ct NW
Pine City, MN

Fitger's Inn
Fitger's Brewhouse on Urbanspoon
600 East Superior St
Duluth, MN 55802
218.722.8826

Sir Benedict's Tavern on the Lake
Sir Benedict's Tavern on Urbanspoon
805 E Superior St
Duluth, MN 55802
218.728.1192

Betty's Pies
Betty's Pies on Urbanspoon
1633 Highway 61
Two Harbors, MN 55616
218.834.3367

Pickwick Restaurant
Pickwick on Urbanspoon
508 E Superior St.
Duluth, MN 55802
218.727.8901

Gooseberry Falls State Park
3206 Highway 61
Two Harbors, MN 55616
218.834.3855

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

7.22.2009

The Unsinkable Miss Molly

This week, Miss Molly Del Monte is all over the New York press for heading up the newly renovated kitchen at Vutura, the restaurant at Williamsburg's Rose Live Music.

But we knew her back in the day. Just a couple of years ago, this blog followed Miss Molly's zany adventures in Italy as a young cook struggling with everything from snarky kitchen politics to the quest for a well-formed strudel.

Miss Molly, with strudel

Miss Molly poses in the Montali kitchen with her very own strudel

Though it would have made for great reality TV, ours was old-school documentation: letters and pictures.

If you missed it the first time around, you can read the whole set below or just cruise through looking at the pretty pictures. I've organized them from her giddy first steps off the plane to the inevitable teary goodbyes.

Missives from Miss Molly:
The Culinary Adventures of a Young American Cook in Italy

Chapter 1: A Far-Flung Cook Lands
Chapter 2: The Daily (Espresso) Grind
Chapter 3: Hot Kitchen, Hard Times
Chapter 4: Siestas & Salty Snacks
Chapter 5: Dreams of Pulled Pork
Chapter 6: High Drama & Lasagna
Chapter 7: Lost in Translation
Chapter 8: A Taste of Traditional Tuscany
Chapter 9: 20 Questions & Limoncello
Chapter 10: Last Call at Montali

Hearty congratulations (and fat, juicy good luck wishes!) to the indefatigable Miss Molly!

Cheers,
Miss Ginsu

Labels: , , , , ,

3.26.2009

Inside Google with the Girl Geeks

Maybe this is just a crazy quirk I have, but I'm always curious about what it's like to eat in the cafeterias and restaurants that loom behind closed doors.

For years, I've had great wonder about what it's like to dine at Google. A couple of my friends/co-workers who were hired on at their New York office told wild tales of all the wonders to be enjoyed... Celebrity chefs! Afternoon tea! Microbrew parties! Free food in the cafeteria!

Thanks to an affiliation with Girl Geek Dinners, a wonderful international organization that's dedicated to helping chicks revel in all things geeky and technical, I was recently able to satisfy some of my "what's it like to eat at Google?" curiosity.

Just in case you, too, are curious... I took photos.

First, the approach:

As one walks toward the 8th floor Hemispheres Cafe (past tons of security guards, I might add), one can't help but notice the walls lined with celebrity chefs who have cooked at the cafe.

Everyone from the more obscure cooks (Dave Martin from Season 1 of Top Chef) to the household names (Mario Batali) get their grinning mugshots up on these walls.

Just before the door, I was thrilled to find Google's "Don't Be Evil" motto in the form of a boxing bear, which is now my new favorite way to display company values. On bears. I'll be attempting to install this sort of thing at my workplace STAT.

Don't Be Evil
"Bear this in mind as you eat your lunch, people."

Hemispheres Cafe at Google
Approach to Hemispheres Cafe

Inside, we enjoyed an open bar with the standard wines, beers and sodas alongside long, thin breadsticks, and I connected with busy bloggers Rachel of Cupcakes Take the Cake and Caryn of Metsgrrl.com.

Girl Geeks
The Girl Geeks chat, chew and twitter it all.

Yes, that's the Empire State Building in the background of the photo above. There's a large outdoor area for noontime sunning. I'm so. very. jealous.

Diagrammed Google Meal
The dinner, diagrammed.

On to the main event:

So how was the food? It was good. It was very good for cafeteria food. The beef was juicy, the crabcake was tender on the inside, crisp on the outside. The green beans were tender-crisp. The garlic mashed potatoes were tasty, if over-seasoned. And the whole-grain bun was chewy and nutty, with a very nice crumb.

I was green with envy that Googlistas get gratis cafeteria food of this caliber. I think I'd get plump (and maybe even tan) working at Google.

And, as Google sponsored the event, they also gave all the girl geeks nifty thermal coffee mugs with baby pink versions of the Google girl logo, like so:

Google Girl Logo
Google Girl Logo

I think I would've been happy just eating the food, but the speakers that followed dinner were both fantastic. Corinna Cortes, Head of Google Research NY and Katrin Verclas, Co-Founder and Editor of MobileActive made the evening invaluable, thanks to their entertaining and informative speeches. (I know so much more about computer science careers and mobile technologies now!)

Big kudos to Girl Geek Dinners NYC for organizing and to Google NY for sponsoring. I encourage girl geeks everywhere to band together, learn together and dine together.

So that's one clandestine cafeteria that's a little less cryptic. I hope to infiltrate the UN cafeteria sometime soon, so stay tuned for that.

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

Labels: , , , ,

3.20.2009

Mmm... Mercadito Cantina

I've never really been wild for flan. It always just seemed like some soggier wanna-be dessert next to the perfection of the divinely crisp 'n creamy, burnt-caramel goodness embodied by the crème brûlée.

And there's so many bad examples of flan out there in the world. But having just recently eaten at Mercadito Cantina, I have seen the light. I am now a flan convert (not that that's going to do anything good for my cholesterol level).

Dos Flans

J happens to have a friend who works there, and seeing as how the place opened months ago, we were loooong overdue for a visit and a taste-test of their fish tacos (so dear to my heart and tastebuds).

After our dinner (which I can't praise enough, by the way: so. very. tasty.), we were sent a duo of dense little flans. Vanilla and Goat's Milk. My goodness, people. A well-made flan is a smooth, rich, decadent delight. A real treat.

Michelada

After freshly-made guacamole, killer salsas, a michelada that rivals my own, excellent fish tacos and sautéed mushrooms with huilacoche (not to mentioin generous bites of J's outstanding pulled pork taquitos), I was so full I couldn't even bear the thought of dessert.

And then it appeared... the little platter of tasty flanitos. One bite, thought I. But oh, mama. They broke my will. (Oh, what a thrill...)

Iban and the cooks

That said, if you want to visit for yourself, you'll have to be crafty.

Word is already out, and true to New York standards, the place is not roomy.

We went on a Tuesday, and they were well-filled by 8 p.m. I don't even want to see the crush on Friday. Early dinners and brunches may be a better bet.

4 spoons

Mercadito Cantina
Mercadito Cantina on Urbanspoon
172 Avenue B
East Village, NYC
212.388.1750

Labels: , , , , , , ,

9.23.2008

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!

Labels: , , , ,

8.12.2008

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!

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

7.15.2008

All-American Road Trips: Denver

Rocky Mountains, Colorado

The Big View

Flanked by mountains and ringed with highways, it's easy to get lost in Denver's strip malls, chain restaurants and outer-ring developments, but once you find your way to Colfax Avenue, you're on the road to dining with the locals.

I was suffering from a dreadful cold on the trip, so we didn't get out to the bars at all, but there were a couple of spots that came highly recommended by my buddy Alex (a former Denverite):

My Brother's Bar: "A classy spot with fantastic burgers (try a JCB burger)."

The Cruise Room: "If you're staying right downtown this is a good bet for cocktails, though the crowd can be a bit obnoxious on the weekend."

The Bites

Jack Daniels Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Just blocks from the Botanical Garden, Liks Ice Cream is a friendly neighborhood joint that features homemade ice creams and sorbets alongside umbrella-shaded outdoor seating. If you're not up for ice cream, the iced coffees and chai seem like a good bet. I had the Jack Daniel's Chocolate Chip, which tastes lightly alcoholic and quite creamy... very much like an iced Bailey's.

Though it's not exactly a cafe, I'm a book junkie, so the Tattered Cover gets a happy mention. Good coffee, tasty-looking pastries and, of course, books! They have several locations, but why not go to the historic LoDo locale? It's huge, comfy, welcoming and chock-full of high-quality staff picks to help you snag a winner or two among the hundreds of selections on the shelves.

Pete's Kitchen

Serving 24 hours daily in a slightly seedy stretch of Colfax Ave, Pete's Kitchen is a classic greasy spoon. My friend Alex recommended it for the chicken-fried steak. The "how ya doin' hon?" staff all seem sweet and genial, if harried. Pete's has been an institution since 1942, so you're here as much for the history as for the gyros platter with fries.

Side Dishes at Domo

If you don't make a reservation, you're going to endure a long wait at Domo's country-style Japanese restaurant. But the lobby is large, the decor is warm and engaging, and you can spend a few minutes walking through the various rooms and gardens. I didn't get a good sense of their fish craftsmanship, but their Wankosushi(TM) combo helps to offer sushi newbies an easy way to navigate various classics by offering a pick-three (or pick-five) small-plate option that arrives with miso soup and an array of kitchen-selected side dishes. It's filling, fun and approachable.

Tacos Platter

El Taco De Mexico strikes me as the kind of place that once featured great food at fantastic prices, but now that it's been listed in a few national publications, they've raised the rates a bit. That said, it's still a good lunch spot. The neighborhood seems like one that's recently been reclaimed by a handful of small, arty businesses, so it's nice for a little post-taco stroll. Order in Spanish or English. The staff is fluent in both. You'll sit with the locals, sip horchata and chew your burrito or tacos in a busy, but tidy, diner booth.

The Takeaway

Denver, Denver everywhere, but I never once saw a Denver Sandwich. The classic Denver Sandwich is essentially a western-style omelette on bread. If you're going low-carb, just skip the bread and eat the omelette. This would also be nice with a slice of cheddar or a spicy pepper jack melted across it. Mmmm...

Denver Sandwiches (Serves 2)

4 eggs
2 Tbsp milk
1 Tbsp butter, melted
Dash of salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup ham, diced
1 green onion, sliced thin
1/4 cup green pepper, diced
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 slices good-quality bread

1. Beat the eggs, milk, melted butter, salt and pepper together until blended. Add the ham, green onion and green pepper.
2. In a heavy frying pan or skillet over a medium flame, heat the olive oil.
3. Pour the egg mixture into the pan, creating an even layer.
4. Cook about 3-5 minutes, lifting the edges to allow excess egg run underneath.
5. Run a spatula around the edges of the pan to loosen the eggs. Turn the omelette carefully, and cook another minute or two on the other side. Slide onto a plate and cut in half.
6. Toast and butter the bread, using half of the omelette for each sandwich.


Tattered Cover Book Store
1628 16th St
303.436.1070

Liks Ice Cream
Liks Ice Cream Parlor on Urbanspoon
2039 E 13th Ave
303.321.2370

Domo
Domo on Urbanspoon
1365 Osage St
(Just off W Colfax Ave)
303.595.8256

Pete's Kitchen
Pete's Kitchen on Urbanspoon
1962 E Colfax Ave
303.321.3139

El Taco de Mexico
El Taco de Mexico on Urbanspoon
714 Santa Fe Dr
303.623.3926

Cheers,

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

4.30.2008

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!

Labels: , , , ,

4.24.2008

A Guide to the Guides

I find that as marketers and advertisers become increasingly more savvy, it becomes increasingly more difficult to parse the difference between the authentic rave and the shill.

On a recent trip to Baltimore, mom and auntie and I stopped at a Maryland tourism center conveniently set up in one of the roadside rest stops along the turnpike. The brochures, of course, were legion. And you have to expect that in that environment, 97% of the material is going to be marketing and maybe 3% is going to be made up of legitimately helpful advice and maps.

I picked up a couple of the guides relating to food (you're surprised, right?) and found that one was great, and the other was utter garbage recycling.



In comparing these two food guides, I was able to come up a few helpful questions that I believe will be useful for me (and, hopefully for you) on the future forays into unknown lands.

How to tell if the guidebook in your hands offers genuinely good dining advice or just a bunch of advertorial content.

1. Who wrote it?
The Dish guide (seen above), was written by the editors of Baltimore magazine. They're putting their names on it. The Maryland Dining Guide (also above) was written by "Media Two" in conjunction with the Maryland Restaurant Association and the State of Maryland.

While magazine editors might actually give you the real dish in the Dish be assured the Maryland Restaurant Association isn't going to risk ticking off any of its members. You know darn well that Dining Guide will feature glowing praise for every Applebee's in the state.

2. What's the advertising to information ratio?
Is the guidebook in your hands chockablock with ads? Are there more ads per square inch than restaurant listings? If your guidebook seems more like an adbook, you can probably assume they're far more interested in cashing in than in helping you out.

3. How many coupons does the guide feature?
This is not to say that coupons are necessarily the mark of the beast for a given restaurant. They're simply a strong warning sign. If the food's great and it's reasonably priced, people will go there. Great local places generally don't need big ads and coupons to bring the mouths in the door.

4. Are there images and reviews of restaurants and cafes, or just listings?

If the guidebook's intent is to list every eatery in town, they're not offering guidance. They're offering a phone book.

5. If there are reviews, do they use the words, "scrumptious," "delectable" or "succulent" a lot?
A word like "scrumptious" is rarely used by a professional reviewer because it's an empty word. It means delicious. But what does "delicious" really mean? It's vague.

The phrase, "The pancakes at Joe's are scrumptious" has nothing on "Cookie Joe serves up flapjacks the way his Grandpappy Joe did: thick, airy and stacked up high on the plate." The second phrase tells you more about those pancakes than a simple, soulless synonym for "delicious" would.

Along the same lines, a shill is never going to have a bad word to say about a restaurant. It's a sign of quality if the reviews give some credit to the bad along with the good.

***

In sum, determining what's advertorial content is tricky. It's meant to be tricky. They want your money.

If you're really interested in eating well on the road, you might consider skipping the tourism center altogether and hitting the regional forum messageboards at chowhound.

Cheers!

Labels: , , ,

4.22.2008

FoodLink Roundup: 03.17.08

Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake turned up in Muir Woods, CA. Where in the world is cupcake this week? Got it nailed down? Post in the comments...

Guinness good for you... officially!
Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, Guinness gets the backing of some scientific research. Sláinte!

Roundup Bonus: Check out the glowing ad copy in this old-school Guinness advert.

Can the World Afford A Middle Class?
Consequences of the global consumption boom? We all pay more for bread, milk and chocolate.

Restaurants Feel the Bite
The stay-at-home mom trend hits the restaurant industry.

More Than Salad
This looks to be a great travel resource for veggies on the wing.

Jack: an occasional restaurant
A fellow NYC food blogger opens an "occasional restaurant" in the totally cool Brooklyn Lyceum.

How the World is Eating...
As food costs rise, some families share how they're dealing with dinner.

10 New York classics
The Guardian fires back after New York Magazine issues its latest list of food & drink favorites.

Red Hook Vendors Get 6-Year Permit
Hooray! Soccer tacos for everyone! Or at least, everyone in Brookyn...

Labels: , , , , ,

3.17.2008

Food Gaming a National Sensation. Who Knew?

Despite the fact I live in one of the world's largest cities, I somehow wonder if I'm not simultaneously living under a rock.

Case in point: The pack of popular food and restaurant-based video games that have apparently surfaced over the last five years. Somehow, thousands and thousands of people are loving food-related games, and I've missed the whole thing.

I was just reading an article at Forbes.com about women's increasing interest in gaming.

Therein I discovered that a game called Diner Dash, released in 2003, was not only one of the top downloadable games of 2004, but the makers, PlayFirst, spun the game and its indefatigable heroine, Flo, into a series popular sequels: Diner Dash 2: Restaurant Rescue, Diner Dash: Flo on the Go, Diner Dash: Hometown Hero.

Diner Dash
And Flo follows her food service dream...

For the eduction of those troglodytes like myself, Flo is apparently a former stockbroker who burned out, dropped out, tied on a pair of zippy sneakers and took up in the diner business.

The game involves doing some mind-reading, analyzing different customer types and single-handedly running various food service enterprises. You can play all night with no risk of sore feet at the end of your shift. ('Course, there's no fat wad of tips for all your troubles, either...)

And it turns out Flo's not alone in virtual service work. Now there's so many food-tie in games, you can pretty much pick your poison: Turbo Pizza, Coffee Rush, Burger Rush, Go-Go Gourmet, Family Restaurant, Chocolatier and Chocolatier 2, Cake Mania, Burger Island, Pizza Chef, Betty's Beer Bar...

Having worked for so many years of my life in the food industry, I must admit the initial appeal was a little lost on me. Endless shifts? Cranky customers? No chance for financial gain? How does all that add up to a recipe for a popular leisure activity?

Burger Rush
The Burger Rush origin story.

That said, the more I think about it, the better virtual business ownership sounds. Restaurant simulation gaming offers all the fast-paced drama with none of the real restaurant risks... things like permanent bodily injuries, drug-addicted employees, violent or drunken customers, unreliable suppliers, liability issues, mob interactions and bankruptcy threats.

Here's a thought... Maybe culinary schools and restaurant business programs should run potential students through a few rounds of Diner Dash before allowing those bright-eyed would-be entrepreneurs the opportunity to lay their unmarred hands on a pile of application forms. Give 'em an opportunity to feel the heat before they drop a bundle on tuition fees.

Yours in simulated burgers and virtual fries,

Labels: , , , ,

3.15.2008

FoodLink Roundup: 03.10.08

Cupcake Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was romping through Sabino Canyon near Tucson, Arizona. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post in the comments if you think you know...

The Psychology Of Commerce
A quick lesson in commodity exchange... demonstrated with the aid of vegetables and chickens.

Free the Grapes!
Wine lovers unite to do battle against the evil forces of distribution blue laws (via WineHazard)

A Brief History of Chocolate
"Who would have thought, looking at this, that you can eat it?"

Self-control consumes real energy
Why your deprivation dieting plans fail every time...

Thomas Heatherwick East Beach Cafe
The most expensive chippy you've ever seen. Hope those chips are tasty.

Coffee Prices Skyrocket
Horrors! Time to stockpile those vacuum packs.

Chinese Food: America's National Cuisine
Exploring the march of the ubiquitous "Chinese" restaurant across America.

Make Coca-Cola at home
DIY Coke... A great skill to have after the apocalypse.

Honibe Honey Drop
Solid honey drops. A nifty innovation for tea-drinking travelers. (via
The Food Section)

Labels: , , , , , , ,

3.10.2008

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!

Labels: , , , , , ,

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.

Labels: , , , ,

2.17.2008

Borrowed Comforts

Is comfort food necessarily bound up in the place in which we spend our developmental years? I have some quibble with that notion.

The comfort food of my people is supposed to be monochrome and starchy: bread, potatoes, beef and butter served alongside a tall glass of milk or a cup of dark coffee. I sprouted in the Upper Midwest of these United States, and that's how we rock it up there.

Yet, in times of stress, sorrow, sickness or stupor I so often find myself drawn toward the comfort foods of far-flung regions: Venezuelan arepas, Vietnamese pho, Japanese ramen, Indian curries, Israeli shakshoukas and Moroccan tagines.

Coffee at Les Enfants Terribles
Coffee and J's furry arm at Les Enfants Terribles

In the darkness, Canal street cutie, Les Enfants Terribles, is a crush of beautiful people who drink and laugh and flirt.

But on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the place is a low-key gem, providing me with a corner table, sunny windows, a view of the international soccer matches, a hot cup of coffee, a crusty baguette and a plate of tasty tagine alongside rockin' Moroccan harissa. My tagine is hot, tender and rich in meaty chicken flavor with a hint of lemon. Slathered with a little searing harissa, it's pure comfort food.

Tagine and couscous at Les Enfants Terribles
Tagine (at front) and couscous (at rear) from Les Enfants Terribles

This is certainly not the finest tagine on the planet (that's a mystical meal I imagine as some kind of slow-cooked masterpiece I'd discover in the kitchen of a Moroccan grandmum). What it is, however, is warm, welcoming, inexpensive and... yes, comforting.

When I really think about it, is my brunch tagine so different from the cuisine of childhood? The tagine is really just a stew. Baguette in place of sliced bread, couscous for the potatoes, chicken or lamb replace the beef and the coffee... well, that's still coffee.

The arepas I love so much are simply a crispy corn shell holding a pocket of stewed meat or vegetables. Pho and Ramen are steaming bowls of veg and meat with noodles. India's curries are highly spiced stews served with basmati rice. The shakshuka is a hot tomato-pepper stew served with eggs and pita. None of these dishes are really so different from the others.

It's clear that the accents are different. One man's harissa is another man's ketchup, no? But could it be that when we speak of comfort food, the world communicates with something like a common tongue?

Three Spoons

Les Enfants Terribles
37 Canal St. (at Ludlow St.)
Lower East Side, NYC
212.777.7518

Labels: , , , ,

11.18.2007

A Tale of Three Ramen

Like a lot of American kids my age, I grew up with an imposter. Fool that I was, I loved it with an unreserved passion.

To my great shame, I still distinctly remember turning down countless opportunities for actual food in favor of plastic pouches of pasty-white ramen noodles.

Oh, how strange it now seems. I was held in a spell, rapt in blind adoration of a bunch of airy white bricks that magically transformed in hot water. Three minutes... and voila! Tender, wiggly noodles steeped one of eight or ten nearly indistinguishable monosodium glutamate flavor packets. Pure comfort-food bliss.

Despite a winning name, Top Ramen really wasn't the star player in my affections. For my personal ontology, noodle bricks weren't even in the same genre as the ambrosial Nissin Cup o' Noodles. Many happy childhood memories involve warming my hands atop the smooth paper barrier that retained precious steam for those three mystical moments between shelf-stable starch and ramen.

Now that I'm slightly more worldly, I know that real ramen holds very little resemblance to either the starchy brick or the salty cup.

I've come to discover that real ramen doesn't involve MSG packets. It isn't even really about the noodles. Real ramen is a sensual experience closer to poetry.

Between the pork and the seaweed, the mushrooms and the egg, the scallions and the broth, the noodle and the steam, real ramen is about comparison. It begins just breathing in the aroma of the bowl. Then the exploration: One bite is briny sea, the next is rich, savory earth. This one is bracing and vegetal. That one, creamy and smooth. This one is chewy, that one, crisp. Real ramen is revelation.

I'd intended to present a comparison of three Manhattan ramen shops, but I find myself torn between them.

Momofuku Ramen
Momofuku Noodle Bar (163 First Ave, near 10th St.)

Momofuku Noodle Bar, the critics' darling, was big, bold, meaty ramen with thick, sturdy noodles... a very American ramen experience. They make it with Berkshire pork and serve it alongside crisp Hitachino ales. It's luxe, crowded, efficient, expensive and oh-so-very NYC.

Momofuku Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

Setagaya Ramen
Setagaya (141 First Ave., near St. Marks Pl.)

Ramen Setagaya is very clearly a US outpost of a slick Japanese chain. From a strangely mesmerizing wall display of Japanese food TV to the focused menu and overwhelmingly Japanese clientele, entering Setagaya felt more like a entering a teleportation device that dumped diners off in the midst of suburban Tokyo. The ramen, too, was transportive: tabletop to forest floor, rocky cliff and seaside farm.

Ramen Setagaya on Urbanspoon

Rai Rai Ken Ramen
(Rai Rai Ken Ramen House, 214 E. 10th St.)

Rai Rai Ken Ramen House is a dim closet behind a red curtain. Dark wood and a skinny ledge. The counter is high. The ramen is passed down from on high by a stoic staff of skilled young men. Chat with your companion. They're there to cook. The ramen is steamy, satisfying and dead cheap. Workers, students and hungry strangers approach needy and leave restored. This is a noodle shop for the proletariat.

Rai Rai Ken on Urbanspoon

Each of these ramen stops is within a stone's throw of the others. And each seems to represent a different aspect of the modern ramen experience. When I sat down to consider which might be considered the one true ramen experience, I really couldn't pick just one. It's situational.

Now, I'm no ramen expert, but I have a theory.

Setting the starchy grocery-store ramen aside as the phony junkfood it really is, the "best" ramen is less about single noodle bar or a single noodle bowl. It's really about the ramen bowl for who you are and how you're feeling at a particular time. Sometimes, the dark cave presents the right bowl of ramen. Sometimes it's the ramen on the slick countertop with the pretty servers.

So here's my thought: don't let anyone tell you they've got a line on the ramen. Top ramen is a state of mind.

Miss G.

Labels: , , , , ,

11.08.2007

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

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4.29.2007

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!

Labels: , , , ,

8.06.2006

Want Coffee With That, Hon?

Neighborhood joints should have a bit of fun with their menus, right?

I mean, maybe restaurants in contention for multi-star reviews have some reason to write up flowery prose with cursive fonts, but I feel that the corner bistro and the neighborhood greasy spoon can afford to demonstrate a little personality.

Sometimes I love a menu so much, I'm forced to beg for it (failing that, I’m sometimes forced to thief it). Get a load of this one lifted a while back from The Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis.

The brekkie was fairly standard hip brunch-y grub (with some extra love for the veggies), but the menu itself... Swoon!

For your enjoyment, I've put forth the effort to transcribe the Breakfast Specialties (yes, unedited, thankyouverymuch), below.

Don’t blame me if, after reading this, you need to run in search of fried eggs and home fries, stat.

BREAKFAST SPECIALTIES

Welcome to the Triple Rock Social Club. We've put some serious thought into the composition of our menu, but chances are pretty good that you might want something customized a little bit. That’s cool, were into making everything available exactly the way you want it. So wipe he frown off your face and ask one of our bitter, overworked, underpaid servers for what you want. They’ll be less than thrilled to accommodate your every whim. Let’s get it on!

IMPORTANT NOTE FOR VEGANS: Most items on the menu can be made strictly vegan (*=can be prepared vegan). If you would like your food to be prepared in a strict vegan manner, just talk to your friendly server and we’ll do what we can to hook it up. And yes, the soy cheese is casein-free. Feel free to discuss any concerns you might have with your server and we’ll make it your way. Girl, you know it’s true…

SPECIALTY BREAKFASTS [Jump start your morning with one of our kick-ass specialties. You won’t be sorry]

The Mothertrucker $6.50
So you’ve got a great big convoy, you’re ridin’ cross the land. Sit your mudflaps down and dig in. We got the platter with what you need to keep all 18 wheels running. Home Fries with veggies and cheddar, topped with three eggs. Comes with delicious Toast. Get it with Bacon, Sausage, Ham or Veggie Sausage for only $1.25. Dedicated to Gertie.

Rock Star Egg in a Hole $4.25
If you are unfamiliar with the Egg In A Hole, you are definitely not a rock star. Through a complicated scientific process, we mold Egg and Toast together, creating a hybrid to kick breakfast ass. We’ll serve you up two Eggs in A Hole plus a side of Home Fries. Get it with cheese for $.75.

Fried Egg Sandwich $5.00
Eggs and cheese fried up like they were crazy and served on Toast. What, are you serious? Damn straight. Comes with a bunch of Home Fries, too. We’ll add Bacon, Ham, Sausage or Veggie Sausage for only $1.25.

Steak and Eggs $6.95
Three eggs, Home Fries and toast. Start your day off on the right track and pamper yourself with sizzling steak.

*Tofu Scrambler $5.25
A perfect way to start a guilt-free day. Resistance is futile. Comes with Home Fries and Toast. Get it with cheese or soy cheese for $0.75. Add veggie sausage for only $1.25.

OMELETTES [Eggs-celent. All omelettes served with Home Fries and Toast.]

Great American Pork-Off $5.75
This porkalicious concoction is chock full of every part of the pig from the rooter to the tooter. Bacon. Ham. Sausage & Cheddar. Suuuieeee!

Veggie Non-Porkorama $5.25
God Damn! If there’s one thing we love around here, its fake meat! Veggie Sausage, Cheddar and Onion.

Bob Denver Omelette $5.50
This ain’t your rocky mountain high, baby! This taller, goofier omelette is just what you need to keep your stomach satisfied on anyh three hour cruise. The Professor made us a bicycle-powered griddle and we’re not afraid to use it. Ham, Cheddar, Green Peppers and Onions are all included. This breakfast will keep you going until you get back to port, if that ever happens…

Devil Went Down to Georgia Omelette $5.00
Cheddar and Onions in a huge honkin’ omelette smothered with World Famous Triple Rock ChiliTM. Satan Endorsed. Satan Approved. We’ll add Bacon, Ham, Sausage or Veggie Sausage to your omelette for only $1.25.

Mushroom and Swiss Omelette $5.00
We knew we had to have something standard and regular for you damn geniuses. You know it, you love it. We own you, so eat it and shut up. We’ll add Bacon, Ham, Sausage or Veggie Sausage to your omelette for only $1.25.

Farmer Ted’s Omelette $5.00
Take down your overalls and bend over for this omelette, cuz we’re gonna serve it up hot. Farmer’s been workin’ overtime to give it to you garden-style. Onions, Green Peppers, Tomatoes, Mushrooms and Spinach. Add cheese for $0.75.

Plain Omelette $4.50
We’ll add cheese or veggies to your omelette for $0.75 each. We’ll add Bacon, Ham, Sausage or Veggie Sausage to your omelette for only $1.25.

BETH”S BREAKFAST BURRITO [Out-freakin-standing.]

Beth’s Breakfast Burrito $5.00
We had our best people work this on out for us. It uses the same powerful technology as the burrito, but this one will cure all morning afflictions. Scrambled Eggs, Spanish Rice and Homemade Salsa, bound by the goodness of ooey gooey cheese, and wrapped in the love only a good tortilla can supply. Home Fries will round out the experience for you. We’ll let you up the ante with Ham, Sausage, Bacon or Veggie Sausage for $1.25. The deals just keep on coming…


The Triple Rock Social Club
629 Cedar Avenue
Minneapolis, MN
612-333-7499

Labels: , , , , ,

11.10.2005

Yes, you really do want this.

Would a ceviche in the light of bright day tickle the palate so sweetly?

Presenting... the evening's hand-written menu, deftly snatched up and tucked away by my delightful dining companion.

Charmingly erratic capitalization and punctuation left intact. My own garden-variety dining annotation included.

The Queen's Hideaway
DINNER: August 26, 2005

MAIN:
1. TART: crab and corn custard with side of smoked cherry tomatoes; bush basil. 12 (ed note: Sprinkled with rock salt. The smoked tomatoes made the dish.)
2. Albacore Tuna ceviche with Avocado, currant tomato & fresh fried tortilla. 12 (ed note: As seen in the photo above. These folks are not afraid of the pepper grinder. Very nicely seasoned.)
3. BBQ Italian Sausage with Flaky Biscuits and savory summer berry compote. 11
4. Buttermilk & chive marinated Flounder fillet, coated in cornmeal & fried. With hushpuppies, coleslaw & hideaway hot sauce. 12
5. Fried chicken/salt potato Salad on a bed of mesculin(sic). Sides: sauteed okra & sweet sweet Melon. 11

SIDES & STARTERS:
1. Peaches roasted in duck confit with triple-cream KNNiK(?) cheese. Yes, you really do want this. 5 (ed note: oh.god.yes. But why only half a peach? Still... heavenly.)
2. Heirloom cucumber salad with vinegar & dill. 4
3. White corn on the cob. With butter. 2
4. Bobolink diary stinky cheese plate with chicken paté & beautiful seedless grapes. 5 (ed note: Holy cats! Ah do loves me some stinky cheese!)
5. Jersey maers with butter, chives & sea salt. 3

DESSERT:
1. Golden Peach & Raspberry Pie 5 (ed note: None left. A deep sadness, indeed.)

BEVERAGE:
1. Coconut/Lime Soda 3

[The Queen's Hideaway has A Bottle Fee (ed note: endearingly scribbled heart appears here) ]

The Queen's Hideaway
222 Franklin St (at Green)
Greenpoint, Bklyn
718.383.2355

Labels: , , ,

8.29.2005

Brown + Orange = Breakfast Bliss

Brown Cafe
Baked Eggs
Latte at Brown
Wheelbarrow Tomato Plant

To those who might secretly harbor notions that Paris or Milan have already cornered the market on enchantment, I submit Brown — a shoebox cafe on the Lower East Side with fantastic fresh food fare.

Details are affectionately observed. Fussiness is turned away at the door. Coffees and brunch are crafted with love and presented with the most quiet, subtle panache.

If you're curious about the food you'll be eating at Brown, simply stop by its petite next-door specialty-shop sister... Orange. Here's where you'll see the walls loosely lined with exotic, imported oils; the counter lineup of rich cheeses supplied by Mitica, the savory, fennel-scented sweet Italian sausages; the delightfully spicy chorizos; the juicy, organic cherry tomatoes. Lucky you... these are the components you'll soon see on your plate.

Morning sunshine. Outdoor seating. Eggs baked in tiny skillets. Idyllic, yes? Better yet, my dining companion informs me that a third sibling will soon be added to the taste triumvirate.

A sweet shop, he thinks. Guilding the latte, I think.


Brown & Orange
Brown on Urbanspoon
61 Hester St
(btwn Ludlow & Essex)
Lower East Side, NYC
212.254.9825

Labels: , , , , ,

7.09.2005

Oh! Sweet. Fleeting. Spell...



Brunch is a safer bet if you really want to score a seat.

Barrio Chino on the NYC Lower East Side:

  • A rich, smoky reposado tequila, flanked by sangrita, mango and jicama.

  • Exposed brick walls that float fancifully suspended cocktail umbrellas.

  • A cool mojito with coconut. Take it sweet or savory. They mull your mint and pinch your juicy lime wedges to order, naturally...

  • Fish tacos the like of which you haven't seen since that week on the Yucatán.

  • Sangria that rolls heady and silken across the tongue with easy, even balance such that a first sip is enough to renew your sense of wonder at how people can drink — much less claim to enjoy — the world's lesser cocktails.

Arrive at 7. This laid-back shop of delights is all yours. But don't get smug. You'll find your little treasure must be soon be shared with the rest of New York, all of whom will attempt to press their shapely frames through the door within two hours' time. Sip your nectar slowly and savor the moment while you can.


Barrio Chino
253 Broome St.
(Btwn Orchard & Ludlow)
212-228-6710

Labels: , , , ,

6.29.2005

The Birth of an Entrée

Alas... my digi camera is dead dead dead. Mourning its decline, I perused my archives and thought y'all might enjoy this little "back of the house" tour from the perspective of a veg cook (one of my kitchen stations back in the day).

Keep in mind, we're not talking short-order slapdash here. This ain't no Denny's. This is how it's done in a *good* kitchen.


Prepwork.
It's the foundation of your station. You never find a line cook in a high-end kitchen just standing around. There's always something to chop up or clean up. This is Davey making quick work of a ginger julienne.


Mis en place (mees-ehn-plahs).
It's all about prepwork and organization, folks. In this cooler drawer (called a lowboy) we find lovingly trimmed turnips, boiled potatoes, lamb bits, braised squash with mustard seeds, toasted coconut, blanched green beans and brussels sprouts, and on the upper left, roasted shallots, turnips and cauliflower, methinks... I can't remember what that reddish-colored stuff is. The meat cook made that.


On fire.
When you hear the order come in, down go the pans. This is a chickpea panisse for the lamb dish. You'll note the blue "side towel" in my friend's hand here. You don't see hot pads or oven mitts in professional kitchens. You see side towels, and god help you if you don't have a dry side towel, because you'll learn the conductivity of water in a heartbeat if you grab a hot handle with a wet towel. Zow!


The lineup.
These plates just came out of the warmer, so they're still pretty warm on the fingers. The veg generally goes in rings to shape it while it waits for the meat cook to finish slicing and fanning out the meat.


The product.
Here we see the lamb veg (turnips, potatoes, leeks and bits of lamb roast) and the afore-mentioned chickpea panisse just before the meat cook makes his addition. You'll note that my veg plays backup to that juicy spread of lamb. All this dish needs is a drizzle of sauce, a garnish, and an approval by the chef. I'm actually hungry just looking at it...


Chef puffs his cheeks, deep in thought.
Nothing goes out without scrutiny from the chef or whichever of his sous chefs happens to be manning the front line. He's got a whole palette of funky garnishes he can use to give your entrée a finishing touch. You know... stuff like finely chopped chives, cilantro chiffonade, mint chiffonade, microgreens, fried ginger, fried lotus root strips and the like.

Just in case any of this makes you hungry, all these photos were taken in the kitchen at Tabla (Corner of 24th & Madison, NYC). The chef is Floyd Cardoz, and the disembodied hands belong to my brother in arms, Dave S.

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

Labels: , , , , , ,

5.31.2005

The Hipster/Domesticity Link


Enid's (2nd Annual) Apple Pie Contest

I imagine being a hipster must be so trying. I mean, the trend-spotting, look-innovating, show-hopping (so you can be the first to be bored by any given up-and-coming band), cheap-beer drinking and “I’m so done with all the mainstream bullshit” attitude maintenance must be exhausting.

That same cool-factor fatigue must account for the packed house last night at Enid’s in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (oh-so close to nearly-played-out Williamsburg) for their 2nd Annual Apple Pie Contest. Enid’s, home of cheap beer, satisfying Southern-style brunches, old-school arcade games and hipsters aplenty.

I brought a pie, thinking the competition would be easy pickin’s. I mean, please… I live food and couldn’t imagine the Enid’s population in my neighborhood producing much more than frozen pies and limp little tarts on a random Tuesday night.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

Through that double-door poured pies. All kinds of pies. Guys with bushy beards and tight cardigan sweaters carrying pies. Girls with dresses over jeans (yeah, I know you hate that look, K…) carrying pies. Cute little gay boys with their boyfriends carrying pies. At least twenty pies and a half-dozen judges. Everything from a cream-topped apple-peanut butter pie to a domed dessert with a Halloween-pumpkin style face (that one took top honors… damn good!).
Flat pies with crumble tops, one in a casserole dish, and an apple-pizza pie with olives and sausage (surprisingly nice).

The judges tasted. They tested. They rated. They raved. They convened, argued, re-tasted and reconvened. My own humble pie was among the group of re-tastings. The roomie squealed in delight as they picked at the crust and sampled an apple chunk.

I analyzed the judges with a fellow pie-maker, Mason (co-father of the PB-Apple pie), who observed, “It seems like hipsters are really into domesticity lately. Everyone I know is knitting or crocheting and baking. I mean, look around.” Indeed. The place was chock-full of the hip. They circled the pie table like sharks with plastic forks, waiting impatiently to dive in for the kill.

My pie (Granny Smith and Macintosh apples, standard crust, pastry vines and berries with an egg-wash and sprinkled turbinado sugar on top) garnered the “prettiest pie” prize… a title with honor, a T-shirt and two drink tickets.

The winner, one of those bushy-bearded lanky guys in Mason’s posse, looked dizzy with excitement. He gripped his recycled bowling trophy and free brunch tickets. He grinned like a child. And lucky for me, he happily spilled his pie-making secrets with all the passion of a hipster who’s found the coolest new thing.

All I can say is: I’m ready for next year.

Labels: , , , , , ,

10.26.2004