Wednesday, March 28, 2007

So, uh, what's the DEAL, Prospect Heights? (the Bad)

There are many reasons why I love living in Prospect Heights in Brooklyn. I love being close to Prospect Park, and having barbecue parties there in the summer, strolling over to Grand Army Plaza on the weekends for the farmers’ market, stalking my favorite French bulldogs and Foxy Brown, and eating out at all the unpretentious neighborhood restaurants. Most of these restaurants serve some really decent, at times great, affordable food. Lately, though, it seems like there is a price to pay for the price we pay.

One Sunday not so long ago, I went for brunch with my amigas at Beast, one of our oft-visited neighborhood joints. In a neighborhood of very unreliable peers, Beast can usually be counted on for solid service. But on this particular day, this was disappointingly not the case - our food took almost an hour to get into our hungry bellies, with not one word of consolation from our waitress, who seemed barely to notice us at all. The food, as usual, was very good (see below for evidence*), but it hardly mattered because that magical brunch mood had been squashed, and we all brooded bitterly like 5 recently sacked federal prosecutors. Yet this is nothing compared to the brunch we had at Tavern on Dean only a couple weekends before, where we waited an obscenely generous TWO HOURS PLUS to get our food, again with scant apology, recognition or compensation.

Sadly, most of us are accustomed to this ordeal. Some restaurants, though, have caused one too many premature gray hairs, and have managed to earn the extremely rare status of “Blacklisted” from some of my less forgiving friends (CafĂ© Shane , hottest servers in the world and all, with a brunch I love, is one of these elite few).

So come on, Prospect Heights, get with it, cause this shit is sooo played out. Yo.

*The food at Beast is actually consistently good:

Brunch - homemade granola with fruit and yogurt

Brunch - three cheese omelette on croissant

Dinner - seared tuna rolls

Dinner - duck with beet salad

Dessert - fried baby bananas with pistachio ice cream

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Blogs - the New Letter?

Last night I went to a screening of a documentary on Dalton Trumbo, a brilliant Hollywood screenwriter (Roman Holiday, Spartacus, Papillon)who was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. The documentary revolved around the many letters Trumbo had written during this time to friends and family. Each and every letter was intelligent, eloquent, funny, thoughtful, entertaining and superbly well-crafted. I especially enjoyed the one he wrote to his son (who was in college at the time)where he expounded on the endless virtues of the fine art of masturbation. The man was a letter-writing genius, and I was amazed at how much we were able to learn about him and that time through his written correspondence with loved ones. I thought of how very empty and meaningless my own written correspondence is, manifesting itself primarily in the forms of emails, text messages, facebook/myspace, and blog comments. OMG! WTF? TTYL. I lament the tragic death of letter-writing in our time, and have decided to revive this lost art. So if you receive a letter from me in your mailbox, I promise you it won't have anthrax in it. Promise.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Momofuku, I te amo you

By now, most everyone has heard of Momofuku. This little east village asian-fusion noodle bar was hailed as one of the best new restaurants of last year, and has gotten rave reviews from practically everyone. But you know, I really don’t give a cat’s ass about buzz. What finally pushed me to try those much-hyped Berkshire pork buns for myself was a story in New York Magazine. The article tells of how chef and owner David Chang reacted when a bitchy East Village lady (yes, you know the type) threatened to sue him after she discovered that a broth she had consumed was not *GASP* vegetarian. He did what any other rational chap would do, and added meat to every item on the menu except one - the ginger scallion noodles. Vindictive? Perhaps. Heartless? Heavens no! Hearing Chang (who hereon in shall be referred to exclusively as ”my hero”) explain his actions - “I guess I just don’t like being told what to do.” – sparked an epiphany of self-awareness and rekindled my own longtime life motto - idowhatiwant. I was thus compelled to visit the mecca of my spiritual awakening.

Telling this story a million times over to anyone who would listen probably wouldn’t be worth deeply offending my vegetarian loved ones again and again if the food weren’t actually good. Happily, it is such that I feel perfectly justified to offend freely and liberally. Here are my favorites so far:


Take a look at these beauties! There is something almost heretical about just how good my hero's take on a very simple Chinese snack is. I'm hesitant to describe to my grandmother just how sweetly the homemade pickes complement the ridiculously succulent yet crispy slab of fatty pork for fear of sounding insolent.

with kimchee puree and bacon

Brussel sprouts and skiing are two things that make winter worthwhile to me, and though I normally snicker at the idea of Asian fusion, this dish made winter just that much better, even if it was a tad too salty for my tastes.

with Berkshire pork combo and poached egg.

My mother says the Japanese like to use these types of Chinese noodles for their ramen. She also says that the Japanese race originated from a boat carrying 500 women and men each, sent over from China by the emperor to hunt for the fountain of youth. I'm inclined to believe her on both counts.

The prettiest beer ever.


He is a great server and indulges all my ridiculous questions and picture-taking.

Jesse's facial manifestation of the offense I render...

...but Darius intervenes as peacemaker. SHALOM MOMOFUKU!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Friends in High Places

Unlike a certain high-profile country crooner who shall remain nameless (Garth Brooks), i have friends who sit in places so high it would make your nose bleed. How so?, you may ask. Well, let me put it to you like this "I got friends who work at restaurants that make food taste real good." Yup, I am one pretty well-connected fat kid in this manzana city.

You see, among my circle of friends, we are basically divided into two camps. The first is that which I, sometimes unfortunately, belong to - those who started working in an entry-level office job after graduation, accepting the low pay and long-dreaded office environment as necessary sacrifices to be made for a higher ambition. A "career," if you will. The other half enjoy high pay, non 9-5 work hours, and incredible flexibility for vacation schedules, and mostly work in the restaurant industry. This wasn't really an option for me, though I learned that fact the hard way. (In college I had given it a shot, but soon discovered that my uncontrollable and incessant obsession with eating made working in a restaurant impossible for me. I would constantly hawk over customers' meals (especially the anorexic ones! I was so pro-ana.), making sure to rush off their untouched leftovers to the back and gobble it down as soon as possible. Needless to say, especially when I was working as a hostess in some retardedly chic soho restaurant that shall remain nameless (Thom, now Kittichai), this didn't really go over so well with upper management.)

But I digress. Last Wednesday, a couple of us went to visit our good friend and excellent waitress Lucy, who works at Olives in Union Square. She was cocktailing, and we thought we'd pay her a visit and protect her from the drunken lobby patrons.

Do you see how menacing we are? Grrr.

Dark & Stormy

Ginger beer + rum. Recently I realized that this summer favorite is actually a great winter drink, and probably spring and fall as well.

Gnocchi with duck sausage, grapefruit and celery root

Never content to have only drinks, especially at a restaurant as fine as Olives, I decided to order a snack. I'm not a huge pasta fan, but I chose this gnocchi dish (one of the night's specials) because I wanted something lighter (this is Olives, afterall), and because I wanted to try the duck sausage with grapefruit. The light and savory sauce was able to seamlessly blend the separate textures and strong flavors of the three ingredients into one robustly well-rounded dish.

Shrimp Grits

I was so happy with the gnocchi that I made Lucy give my compliments to the chef. Reaffirming my suspicion that I love every single person named Sebastian, Sebastian the chef sent us this dish to try. Cheesy, shrimpy and mushy - perfect end of winter comfort food!

Jesse arrived late, fresh from a debate at Cooper Union's Grand Hall (that once hosted the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates) between Newt Ginrich and Mario Cuomo. Clearly, he needed some fresh french fries to wash down all those big ideas.

Fried to perfection, with parmesean and rosemary and bits of parsley, and garlic aioli for dipping. Everytime I eat them, I have to emphasize how much I love fries. Nothing like scrumptious simplicity.

Our friend Rachel recently started working at this Park Slope Restaurant (Bergen between 5th and Flatbush), and on Tuesday nights they have this genius five course tasting menu for $20. The best part of this is that it's a fixed menu, so you don't have to make ANY decisions, save for that of whether or not to get the fixed wines to go with the meal (an additional $20), and whether to get dessert.

Rachel and Lucy - servers extraordinaire!

Course #1 - Roasted red pepper soup and fried goat cheese ravioli

This was followed by a mesclun salad, which I failed to photograph.

Course # 3 - Asparagus wrapped in prosciutto with watermelon balls and a balsamic reduction

Course # 4 -
Fried calamari

Course # 5 -
Swedish meatballs

The owners of the restaurant are Swedish, which explained why these little guys (we got three of them!!) were so delectable. The fresh cranberry sauce also helped.


Everyone else was somehow "really full," but I really wanted dessert. It was a good choice. I melted.