Thursday, December 17, 2009

Renovation Week 2 - Deep Breaths Help

Well, now that we got that first week out of the way, everything is running smoothly and our job will be done before we even know it. Not so fast, friends. Because, as I'm quickly learning (and I think I learned in college about this, too), if anything can go wrong, it will. Oh right, that's called Murphy's Law, and Murph, you are (were?) one smart dude.

You see, the demo went fine...I mean, what can possibly go wrong when you're smashing stuff up with sledgehammers and ripping stuff out with crowbars? I even got involved, demo-ing the closets before the contractors even showed up...what better way to get rid of a bunch of stress than ripping shelves and hooks and other bits out of plaster walls!

Well, lemme tell you what can go wrong. Once the bathroom walls were torn down, my guy noticed a "bit of a leak" behind one of the walls. At that point, I was taking pictures and writing emails to our new board of directors and management company (that's me, always making friends). In a condo, you own "walls in," meaning anything that's taking place behind the walls or above the ceiling is the condo responsibility. A day later, the plumbers had pulled this out of the ceiling/wall, and our "bit of a leak" was repaired...

There was also some water damage coming from our chimney, behind the fireplace mantle...yes, we have a working fireplace! Same m.o. as above, and a day or to later, our roof leak was repaired and our fireplace started to look somewhat normal, though I have absolutely no idea what a normal fireplace looks like...

Our contractor dealt with these "discoveries" with aplomb, even offering solutions to our management company. Our new bedroom floor is installed and the whole place has been skim-coated, sanded and primed. By the way, can anything make more of a mess than sanding? Yes, but only if you count cutting stone for a fireplace. Our IKEA kitchen was delivered (on time and perfectly as ordered)'s my job to build all the cabinets, and even though I don't like long nights, sometimes I wish I was Swedish. As we enter into our third week of renovation, things appear to be running smoothly...but I don't want to jinx it, so keeping my fingers crossed.

Oh, one more thing. Home inspections are friggin' useless. Oh, I know they're "necessary" in order to secure the mortgage. Actually, they're just another way for someone to take your money and run, imo. Did they find the leak in my bathroom? No. How about that chimney problem? No. It did tell me that my dishwasher was working - which was just great, considering that it was being ripped out and hauled to the dump. And by the way, not all the windows in the apartment lock properly...thanks so much. Ahhhh well, live and learn.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sous Vide Supreme, Tasty Travails and The Grey Lady

Forgive me from breaking away from the fascinating story of our DC renovation, but something happened last week and yesterday that is very exciting to a food nerd like me.

You see, last week I got a call from Julia Moskin of The NY Times, who wanted to interview me about a new sous vide machine I recently purchased. A while ago, I had seen an ad about the new Sous Vide Supreme becoming available, and in addition to placing an order for one, I started a thread on eGullet at the same time. That's where Julia, one of the Times' best food writers, got my name.

So she called, we spoke, and of course, due to the fact that 90% of my time is being spent in DC with the renovation of our new apartment, I haven't had much of a chance to play with my new toy. She's such a good reporter that she figured that out without me saying it! I was able to drop a cranky bon mot or two (see below), one of which made the final cut, though she didn't mention Tasty Travails. And I figure anytime a food nerd like me can get mentioned in the same article as Thomas Keller, Heston Blumenthal, Joël Robuchon and Ferran Adrià, it's a good day.

Sous Vide Moves From Avant-Garde to the Countertop

“You do have to ask,” said Mitch Weinstein, a moderator on eGullet who was among the first to buy a SousVide Supreme, “if sous vide is so great, how come I have to cook the food again?”

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Renovation Week One - Refill Xanax Prescription

Okay, so Significant Eater's and my first week's nightmares are over. And yes, I realize Tasty Travails has taken a back seat to the new apartment in DC. But, there are priorities. And every day I thank the gods, or whoever it was that invented alprazolam.

A couple of weeks ago, SE and I retained the services of a duly licensed and insured contractor here in Washington, DC, as we prepared to renovate our little pied-à-terre in the Washington Heights Historic District. Of course, who the hell even knew that our building was in the WHHD? I only found out when I was applying for the needed permit, and was so told by the permit clerk. Oh well, we're not renovating the outside of the building, so all's well in permit land.

Our reno (a gut, basically), started last Monday. By Tuesday, the place had been demolished...these guys work fast, I tell ya. Which is a good thing (so I'm told) in contractor land. Of course, everything that was taken out of the kitchen is still in the middle of the living room, and driving me crazy - don't you want to remove the trash as soon as you can? And maybe use one of those cool Shop Vacs, or whatever they're called. To kinda keep the dust down. It's in the contract...

Contractors don't work like chefs, that's for sure. A chef, or at least the chefs I worked for, likes everything clean and neat. They don't want to come in the next morning and see some shit lying all around. Nor do they want to see dirty stations during service. They're always wiping up. Same with me when I cook; oh, by the way, I haven't cooked a decent meal in a month, but that's another story. I want to wake up and see my kitchen all clean and spotless. You don't want to be having to poke around in a sink full of dirty dishes to make your coffee, do you?

I've tried to be the perfect new neighbor during this time...I know how disruptive a reno can be in a small apartment building. I've slipped notes under the doors of my neighbors so they knew what was coming. Knocked on their doors to introduce ourselves and pre-apologize (must be the jewish guilt). Got the required permits, insurance and approval from the board of directors for the work we're doing. I'm at the building every morning and evening to make sure the hall carpet is covered and, at the end of the day, to get my bottle of windex out and clean the elevator of whatever hand prints the workers have kindly left - you wouldn't want them to do have to clean up after themselves after all - they've just worked hard all day.

Anyway, at the rate our contractor is moving along, they might well be done in another two weeks. Which would be great, if the work is of the quality I've been told it will be. And then, sometime right after the new year, Significant Eater and I will be able to settle in, light a fire, cook a meal, and enjoy our second home. After all, the view from our living room window is pretty nice...that's Kalorama Park right across the street, and the Washington Cathedral is visible in the distance.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Dumpling Dilemma, Eldridge St. Version

Ahhh, the dumpling dilemma - especially tricky here in New York City, specifically on the lower east side and even more specifically, in Chinatown, Jack. Because that's where they, "they" being the dumplings of the 5 for $1 variety, are found practically everywhere you look. And let's call them the 5 for $1 variety, even though some of them now cost more at 4 for $1. You see, even the dumpling people realize that raising the price isn't the smartest marketing move, so instead of raising the price, they charge you the same $1, and they give you less...Ogilvey and Mather has nothing on these marketeers.

As an aside, the other day I was shopping in DC with Significant Eater - Harris Teeter, for those on a need to know basis. Tropicana orange juice was on sale for $2.99 for a half gallon, not a bad price for juice that comes from oranges grown so far and wide, so I picked up a carton to get a closer look - and there it was. Yes, that half gallon had somehow mysteriously shrunk to a mere 60 ounces, and as any (or at least my) self-respecting high-school math, science or even English teacher would've told you, that ain't no half gallon. They want you to believe it's a half gallon, but you can't bullshit a bullshitter, as they say.

Back to the dumplings. Since there are a fair number of these dumpling places on the
lower-east-China-side, I needed to narrow my search. The dumplings I want to check out are the pan-fried variety type, though I usually order something to go along with them because after all, who can only spend $1 for lunch? At some point, I'd love to do a side-by-side of the cook-at-home varieties that many of these places offer - they are usually sold in bags of 50 for something like $8 (!), making them something like 16 cents a piece, or 6.25 for $1 - and take THAT, high-school math.

I decided to narrow my search even more, by doing a street by street comparison. So the other day I took off, camera in hand and traversed Eldridge Street from bottom to top, simply because Eldridge may well be an apocryphal street in dumpling lore...and there's a really cool Jewish synagogue on it too.

The first place you come to on Eldridge is called Prosperity Dumpling, at No. 46...

Prosperity's dumplings are held in high esteem by many dumpling lovers, and rightfully so. They strike that perfect balance between crispy bottoms and a soft enclosure, with plenty of porky chive (chivey pork?) flavor. The skin is nice and thin, and not gummy like some of them can barely contain the righteous amount of filling. Take a look-see...

Mmmmm, those are some damn good dumplings and guess what? Still 5 for $1! How do they do it, folks? By the way, I also ordered one of their sandwiches - yes, the dumpling shops usually sell some sort of sandwich, which is made on a thick scallion pancake that has been split open and stuffed with - well, you don't necessarily want to know what it's stuffed with. When you get one on a pancake that is hot and steamy, they're really good, and Prosperity is no slouch in this department either. They come in a number of varieties as indicated on the menu, but not really; every time I've been in they only have beef, so that's what I have - basically dried or dessicated beef with a few shredded carrots, cilantro and maybe a squirt of hoisin and they're not half bad...expensive, though, at $1.50.

One final money shot - check out the activity in the back room of Prosperity - there's some dumpling making going on, with no less than 4 people cranking 'em out.

Waddling out the door and heading north, you'll come across this shop, with the rather unglamorous (or maybe it really IS glamorous, I dunno) name of Hua Du Dumpling Shop Inc.

Now, the first thing I noticed when I walked in was that the dumplings (5 for $1) were sitting in a steam table pan - and that's not a good sign. Pan-fried dumplings are at their best when they come right out of the wok/pan/whatever it is that they're pan-fried in. These weren't. That, along with a total inability to communicate in any way, shape or form, and the fact that there really didn't seem to be any customers for the cooked-on-premises dumplings led me to turn around and walk away without even trying them. I'll be back in order to try out the frozen product at home, but for now I continued my trek northward,

For many, the Dumpling House on Eldridge is really where it all started. It has been around for a number of years, and was always in the top tier of 5 for $1's. They started getting written up in guidebooks and in tourbooks and then all hell broke loose. There was an expansion to 14th St. (maybe a cousin or some other family member). They were able to take over the storefront next door on Eldridge St. a year or two ago and renovated and reopened under the name of Vanessa's Dumpling 118 A Eldridge, and here it is...

Now, don't get me wrong, for I love a successful business person as much as the next guy. What I don't love is the thundering hordes. It makes for a not-so-good experience in my mind. And sometimes the wait is unbearable and the product is less than stellar. Oh, I'll go there sometimes (it is practically around the corner from our apartment, after all), but it has to be off hours. Otherwise, it looks like this...

And, at ONLY 4 for $1, it's just not worth my time.

Next up for dumplings, the double of Henry and Madison Streets - should be some interesting finds down there.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sugar High and Good Deeds

I might be feeling guilty (I am) for not blogging in almost 2 weeks (gasp), but you know the story - Significant Eater is working in our nation's capital and I'm going back and forth to DC, as is she, getting us set-up with a second home in that fair city. The guilt might also stem from the fact that last weekend we attended a Bat Mitzvah here in NY for the last of our nieces and nephews to attain that age (between SE and me, there are 9 altogether, and thank you sisters and brothers for letting us be able to remain child-free by keeping our parents so occupied) yeah, the guilt might have something to do with the Jewishness, but who knows?

I digress. Back in the '90s (the 1990s wiseguys), SE and I used to go see a performer named Coyote Shivers. He was quite the glam boy, a good rocker, and he even (for a while) held the imprimatur of being married to Bebe Buell, a model and altogether great rock-star groupie (she did spend time with EC, you know) as well as mother of Liv Tyler. Props. As a matter of fact, here's my autographed copy of Shivers' first CD - he called me Mick, but it might've been the booze...

The reason I bring up Coyote Shivers is that he wrote and performed a great song, called SugarHigh. Now, I don't know if you've ever been to a bar or bat mitzvah, but they've changed a bit since my friends and I attained the age of 13, a few decades or so ago. Oh, we had parties back then, and we had bands; now they have DJs and nonstop music from start to finish. Hot DJs. Loud music. I don't mean to sound like an old fogey here, but I wore earplugs last week...all those concerts over the years have taken their toll and I'm trying to keep the hearing that I have left.

If you've ever seen a bunch of teens at a party, with loud hot DJs, I'm really not thinking they need much sugar. Or caffeine. But take a look at was was around the room, for all to partake. It started off with...

And then moved onto the sweets table, where there were bags for the candy (yes, I packed a bag for myself)...

Now, if you think that it was all sweets and nothing but, you'd be mistaken. There was a really cool station set up, where a couple of chefs kept at it most of the night - though if you tried to take a piece before they were "open," you were liable to lose a finger in the process...

Yep, the sushi brothers made some pretty serviceable sushi for the crowd. Sashimi, too. And after sushi, more sweets. First, a fountain of chocolate, with many dippables...

And we can't forget the ice cream...

There you have it...a Sugar High indeed.

But there's more. When we received our invitation to Emily's Bat Mitzvah, it read that instead of gifts, Emily wanted people to donate to her favorite charity, called The Toby Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing the number of unwanted pets. Pretty important in a city like ours, where thousands upon thousands of animals are born without homes every year.

Significant Eater and I did just that, as it's a cause we both believe in. We've both loved and had animals all our lives, and our cat is named Rescue, because that's what we did - we rescued her from a shelter. But little did we know just how awesome a mitzvah Emily was able to produce by turning her Bat Mitzvah into a charitable donation...close to $5,000 has been received by The Toby Project due to our niece's generosity. The story was even picked up by a number of our local news outlets. The Daily News did a story about it, and CBS news did a piece with an interview of Emily, accompanied by the family's two dogs, whom I've often had the pleasure of playing here for the CBS news piece and the video is here.

Once you've become a Bar or a Bat Mitzvah in the Jewish faith, you've attained the age of adulthood according to Jewish law. That brings with it certain obligations, including moral responsibility for one's own actions. SE and I were both impressed and moved by the moral responsibility of our niece, as well as by the actions she has taken to ensure those responsibilities are being met. If you have a few extra bucks, we urge you to donate to The Toby Project.

And to Emily and her whole, extended family, Mazel Tov! You should all be proud.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Holy Cannoli, I'm Stuffed...or Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli

First off, a quick apology (to anyone who might care) about Tasty Travails being a little lax on the posting lately...lots of back and forth between the lower east side and Washington, DC, as Significant Eater settles into her new job in public service. Along with being in the process of trying to find a more permanent residence in DC, I have been seeing lots of I-95 lately - btw, not a lot of good food to eat along the way, though I have found a few places of interest, which I'll report about in the future...think cheap booze.

But back to the lower east side, which is where I am today, before heading south tomorrow. Certainly this place has been Urban Daddied, Eatered, Thrill Listed, Daily Candied, Grub Streeted and Seriously BEaten to death, but it's in my neighborhood, so I'll report anyway. A bit off the beaten path, on Stanton between Clinton and Attorney, sits this nice storefront:

And looking up at the sign, you'll see this:

Yes, folks, it's Stuffed Artisan Cannolis, and really, it's just what the neighborhood needs. I'd been wanting to stop in for a week or two now, so I headed over after receiving a less than happy welcome at nearby Noodle Bar (no, not THAT Noodle Bar) on the corner of Orchard and Stanton. Oh, at noodle bar I walked in and after sitting at down at a 4-top was told I'd have to sit at a smaller table - really - when there was nobody else in the place, so I walked out...(oh, nice to see you too, douchebags) and proceeded east on Stanton, and there it was at #176.

The store is, make that practically empty, and I stood there for a good minute or two before the owner realized I was watching him intently stuffing filling into a myriad of cannoli. He turned around, smiled and apologized for not noticing me sooner (maybe he should teach noodle bar some manners?). The owner is Anthony, and he's a New Yorker through and through. Grew up and went to school in Greenwich Village. If you want to hear a classic New York accent, Anthony's your guy. Check out how happy he is just making his cannoli...

We exchanged some pleasantries, and I found out that he started by selling his cannoli from a cart on the corner of Mulberry & Hester Sts. on the weekends, and would set up a booth at the Feast of San Gennaro during its 10-day run in September. Pretty cool. And when the opportunity to open a little storefront presented itself, he just couldn't say no. The neighborhood wins. After a bit more bantering, Anthony offered me one of his classic cannoli for a taste. I say classic, because it was the classic Sicilin cannolo, with a hint of almond and cinnamon gracing the perfect filling. It was everything a cannolo should be - filled on the spot, the shell was crisp and the filling not too sweet. You can see above that there aren't a lot of prefilled shells, lest they become soggy, which is the bane of a good cannolo. As a matter of fact, they only hold up for 6 hours or so, and that refrigerated case they're in is icy cold to keep 'em fresh.

Other than the classic, Anthony offers all sorts of different flavored fillings for his cannoli. Using high quality ingredients like Valrhona chocolate, I can only imagine they would be a great hit for your next party. As a matter of fact, who could resist, so I brought home a few for dessert tonight. Don't they look good?

That's cappucino on the left, chocolate in the middle and peanut butter and jelly on the right. I've already eaten the chocolate one (damn good) and I'm bringing the other two with me to share with some dinner companions - I'm sure they'll be just right after pizza!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mary Had A Little Lamb...well, Maybe Mitch Did

Lamb stew can be called by so many different names, in so many different languages. It can be a navarin, ragout or even a daube. It might be called mishmishiya in Egypt, where the name comes from the Arabic word for apricot, or mishmish; apricots make up a large part of the recipe. It can be a tagine in Morocco, both the name of the dish and the pot it's cooked in. And a calderete de cordero in parts of Spain. In Peru you might eat seco de cordero, lamb stew with vegetables, while lamb curries are popular in Africa, India, Indonesia and Malaysia, amongst other locales.

But whatever you call it, in whatever language you'd like, lamb stew is a great dish. Wanna use the neck or shoulder? Go right ahead. How about the breast? Be my guest. Is it a leg you prefer? Well, jump right in. That's what makes lamb stew so good (besides the taste) - you can use practically any part of the animal (though you wouldn't really want to use the loin) and be assured of a tasty, tender dish that will wow your friends and family. As a matter of fact, this month's issue of Saveur has a great cover and stories about lamb, and inside the mag is a pictorial guide to all the cuts of lamb - almost everything you need to know.

Me - I like the shoulder. The other day I popped over to my butcher, where I was able to procure basically the whole front part of a lamb - both shoulders and the neck, actually. I took both shoulders, about 10 pounds worth, and they were kindly boned out for me; the bones, of course, were used to make 2 quarts of delicious lamb stock...perfect to add another layer of flavor to my stew. Here's what I had to work with...

Now, after boning and trimming, I was looking at about 7 lbs. of shoulder, so I cut 5 lbs. into cubes for the stew, figuring that would be plenty for 8 guests, including Significant Eater and me.

The first step in making this stew is to brown the meat (you salted and peppered it first, right?) - and I mean, BROWN the meat. Don't skip this step or do it like a wuss. Brown the damn meat. It should look like this:

The whole process and reason for browning, which involves the Maillard reaction (thanks, Wiki), the cool technical term for, ummm, browning, is to add another layer of flavor to your stew. And it also creates a fond, another cool term (this time French) for the browned crap on the bottom of your pan. And as I said, you want brown, bordering on burnt. When you're done with all your browning, the pan should look like this:

That's some fond, baby. Now, of course you don't let the fond go to just went through all that trouble to make it. You need to deglaze the pan(s) that you've browned the meat in, with wine, stock or even water. If you don't know what deglazing is, it's heating the liquid in that same pan while scraping the bottom and getting all the fond up - it is like cleaning the pan, except you don't pour the results down the drain - instead, they go into the braise.

A cool thing to do is to use your mirepoix (there go the French again) to deglaze the this case, my diced onions and carrots, along with a couple of cloves of garlic, went into the pan...they release enough liquid while sweating to deglaze the pan. And then I added a cup and a half of white wine (you can use vermouth, too - Julia always did) and reduced it way down, put the meat back into the pan and added enough lamb stock to come about 2/3 of the way up the meat. I also added a bunch of parsley stems, a handful of thyme sprigs, a few black peppercorns and 2 bay leaves. Brought it to the simmer, covered and into a 325 degree oven for an 1 1/2 hours - after an hour, give it a good should look like this...

Next, remove the meat to a plate, and strain the liquid. That's gonna become the gravy/sauce/whatever for the stew. I like to refrigerate the gravy separately from the meat overnight; that way, all the fat will solidify at the top, and it can just be removed and tossed before finishing the stew. About an hour before serving, both the liquid and meat went back into a 4 quart pan, along with a couple of vegetables. Vegetables are a matter of choice, and for this particular stew, I precooked a bunch of small turnips and carrots. They were added after the stew came back up to a simmer, and heated along with the meat for the last 30 minutes or so.

Now, if your gravy isn't thick enough, there are a couple of tricks. I like to make a beurre manié (trust me, the French know their stuff), and add a tablespoon or two to the sauce. It will thicken up in no time. When all is said and done, it will look like this...

Serve over some mashed potatoes, rice, noodles, whatever and be ready for the oohs and ahhs.

Oh...a couple of tips. I started out with 5 lbs. of boned and trimmed cubes and ended up with under 3 lbs. of meat. So, adjust accordingly - that's really only enough for 6 big eaters - if you're cooking for 8 or 10, I'd cook almost a pound of meat per person. Leftovers will not go to waste.

However, if you are starting with 10 bs. of meat and only cooking for 6, do what I did with the extra meat...grind it up and make some free-form merguez...these were as big a hit as the stew!

Lamb Stew (Serves 8)

6 lbs. boned, trimmed, lamb shoulder

2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrot
1 1/2 cups white wine (or dry vermouth)
2 qts. lamb stock
6 cloves minced garlic
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. black peppercorns
handful parsley stems
8 thyme sprigs

For finishing the dish:

6 carrots, 2 inch pieces
8 turnips, quartered

Read the post above and follow those directions, please.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How Much is That Lulav (and Ethrog) In the Window?

The Lower East Side. Division and Canal. At one point in it's storied history, the ethrog (etrog) center of the universe. Just look at this sign, and tell me differently...

Now, of course, times have changed. I mean, directly across the street from where that picture was taken, lies this teeming scene any other time of the year...

And, pre-Sukkot...

That's the corner of Essex and Canal - where a bustling Chinese street-market stands in contrast to the aforementioned etrog (and lulav) center and sellers. By the way, the whole 2 ways of spelling etrog/ethrog is something I never really understood, but it may have something to do with different ways of pronouncing it...and I'm going with etrog from here on.

Every year, when the holiday of Sukkot rolls in (a cool holiday, because it celebrates the harvest and locavorism), the etrog and lulav sellers come around our neighborhood to sell their wares. In and amongst the Chinese street markets, there are still a few storefronts along Essex Street that make it seem not so unlikely:

Now, what are a lulav and an etrog? To put it simply, they're two of the symbols that are used in the 7-day celebration of the Sukkot festival - the other being the Sukkah itself. Here's an even better description of the lulav and etrog, from

A lulav is a slender palm branch that is held together with two willow branches and three myrtle branches. An etrog is a citron that looks mostly like a misshapen lemon but smells like heaven. The branches and fruit are waved each day Sukkot, except on Shabbat, in a specific manner for a variety of reasons.

That's the lulav - which is a palm branch, and here's the etrog:

The etrog is very important. It appears more important - doesn't it? It's cooler looking and I'm sure it's tastier. I bet you could even make a cocktail from it. And if it wasn't very important, there wouldn't be rules like this, as I like to call it "The Etrog Rule:"

Some etrog varieties arrive with a pitom, the stamen left over from the etrog blossom, protruding from the top. Be careful with the pitom. Should the pitom fall off, the etrog is no longer considered whole and should not be used for the mitzvah of waving the lulav.

Watch your pitoms, kids. You know, the etrog needs to remain in good shape for the duration of the holiday as the branches and fruit are waved together each day, in a Sukkah. Sukkahs (or is it Sukkot?) pop up all over the lower east side before the holiday; as a matter of fact, our buildings put up two really big Sukkahs. Here you can see one on part of what used to be Hester St...

What is a Sukkah?
A sukkah is a booth of sorts, a construction of a one-room abode where holiday-observing Jews dine, entertain, and some even spend the nights, for seven days each year.
The origin of this ritual is biblical. God instructed the Jewish people to construct booths. “You shall live in booths seven days. All citizens of Israel shall dwell in booths” (Levitcus 23:42).

God forbid, seven days with your family in a one-room hut. Anyway, the reason for the sukkah is symbolic, as is pretty much everything on most religious holidays (see birth of various peeps, if you don't believe me). It symbolizes how:

During the busy harvest season, farmers would build temporary shelters in the fields to save themselves the trouble of heading back home for rest. They also did this to act as human scarecrows as their presence would help keep thieves at bay. The sukkah is reminiscent of these harvest huts. Modern scholars have argued for the validity of the sukkah’s agricultural roots because the leafy covering stipulated in sukkah construction codes are more similar to huts farmers would build than to the heftier huts nomads would need.

I can just see those modern scholars arguing now. But really what should be argued about is how come the guy whose etrog and lulav I snapped pix of was charging $25 for the set, while right up on the corner, another was willing to make me a deal at $20. Hah - just like the old days.

Oh, and if I was going to make a cocktail with that etrog, it would probably be something along the lines of an let's call it the...

Sukkot Aviation - Serves 2

4 oz. Gin - Beef, Tanq or Plymouth here, please
1.5 oz. etrog juice - even though I have no idea what it tastes like, but let's hope lemon
3/4 oz. marashino liqueur
2 tsp. Creme Violette (optional)

Shake it all up with a lot of ice. If it sucks, you're out $20.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Answering A Higher Authority - DC Kosher

There's an old Woody Allen joke that goes something like this, and I'm paraphrasing here:

Two people are dining together at a Catskill's hotel. One looks at the other and says, "The food is really lousy here." The other responds, "And such small portions."

Philosophically, I don't know whether that joke has anything to do with my post today, but let's just say the kosher restaurants piss me off - because 99.99% of them suck. Now, I'm not talking about places like Katz's or the 2nd Avenue Deli, both here in New York. Katz's doesn't even pretend to be kosher (because it's not) and 2nd Avenue is sorta kosher, because...oh, let's just say because they're allowed.

No, I'm talking about the REAL kosher restaurants, like the one down here in our lower east side neighborhood called Noah's Ark, and others scattered about this city and others. Real kosher (glatt kosher, if you will) usually means they're not open on from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday nor on any Jewish holidays, dairy and meat are never served in the same restaurant and, from

Answer: The technical definition of glatt kosher is meat from animals with smooth or defect-free lungs, but today the term glatt kosher is often used informally to imply that a product was processed under a stricter standard of kashrut.

Which isn't 100% correct, according to - and oy, you get the picture. It's kinda like the kids you knew in high school or the girl you once dated who were "kosher," but not really - only at home, let's say. And then your friend ate a bacon cheeseburger out, on Passover, just to really break the rules. Or you took that "kosher" girl out on a date, and she was slurping down oysters with chorizo, and you knew she wasn't really kosher - and you breathed a sigh of relief.

But back to Washington, DC, where Significant Eater and I had a, shall we say, less than memorable quick bite at a REAL kosher place called Eli's, downtown on 20th Street. Playing it safe, I ordered a pastrami sandwich on marble rye, chicken soup with a matzoh ball, and SE had a chef's salad, which is basically greens, maybe a tomato, a bit of cuke, a hard-boiled egg (I particularly like the green ring around the yolk - a true hallmark of kosher cooking) and all the lousy meats you'd want, for some reason rolled up into a cylinder, like maybe you were gonna smoke it or pretend you're eating a California roll...apologies for the lousy cell-phone pix...

If you want to know how to screw up pastrami, Eli's might be a good place to start. Putting aside the actual sourcing of the pastrami, there is a NEED to slice pastrami correctly for the sandwich to be edible. Hint - that's against the grain as opposed to with it. But it wouldn't have mattered if Eli Zabar himself sliced this pastrami - it was lousy. And, they toasted my marble rye - a big no-no. The kicker was the potato salad - seen in the upper left hand corner below.

Those little dots on top of the potato salad? It took SE and me a while to figure out what they were. We decided that they were fake bacon bits, and they added just the right touch. They might be something different - who really knows?

Now, this problem of lousy REAL kosher food in restaurants is by no means restricted to Eli or Noah's Ark - trust me. I mean, have you ever walked out of a kosher restaurant and said to yourself, "man, I just can't wait to get back there?" No, you haven't - or you're lying. It's sad, because I can take a kosher chicken, or a kosher brisket, or a hundred different vegetables, grains, eggs or whatever and make a pretty darn good kosher meal. I just haven't found the kosher restaurant kitchen that can do any of the same. Not Eli's, and certainly not Noah.

And I'm open to suggestions for great kosher, in ANY city.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Elevator Going Up...

New Yorkers are fairly fond of their views. At least those that have some. But views in New York can be fleeting. And they're certainly always changing. That's why when I'd heard that Gouverneur Healthcare Services was getting ready to under a rather massive expansion program, I started to get nervous about one of our four teensie views of the East River.

You see, Significant Eater and I live on the 15th floor of our building. We fell in love with our apartment when we first walked into it six years ago, because of the views and "the light" - why do realtors always talk about "the light" as if it's some sign from the heavens that all is well in the universe? Jeez, there's a realtor in DC who showed us an apartment on the first floor (albeit of a very nice building) that had its shades drawn because the only windows in the apartment looked out upon the building next door, who spoke of "the light" in glowing terms. Yeah, I wanted to say, the light's great - because you have all the fucking lights on!

But back to Gouveneur and our views - SE and I can see four slivers of the river from our bedroom window. Slivers, mind you, with the Manhattan Bridge just visible in the background. And it's not like the view from our living room windows, protected as it is by the fact that we overlook Seward Park - looking out over parks is a really good thing, because you can't generally build big buildings in parks in NYC - though looking out over Seward Park and it's playgrounds can sometimes be annoying, what with all the shouts and screams of children having a good time making their way up to our apartment. No, this is a view that over time is likely to change, just as the skyline all around the lower east side is changing. Tall buildings, Blue building, Gertel's building, every time I hear of a new project, I wonder how our "light" is gonna change.

So, after looking at the renderings for the new expansion, I started to get really worried. I mean, take a look see...

That thing is huge. So, I started to get out my protractor (yeah, like anyone uses one of those), and started calculating vectors and shit, just to figure out if one of (maybe my favorite) our slivers was going to disappear. SE was kinda getting sick of hearing me complain about the building...she prefers to take the view that if there isn't anything you can do about it, why worry. God, she's so zen. And for a year, all they were doing was foundation work. And then, it started to grow up...and here's a diary of photos...

August 24, 2009 - called my doctor and asked for a refill of my Xanax prescription. Note 2 of our 4 slivers - see, I told you they were slivers.

September 1, 2009 - noted the appearance of girders intruding into river view - started to think about using Gouveneur's mental health services. Glad to be thinking about an apartment in DC; helps take my mind off this project, if only for minutes.

September 18, 2009 - after returning home from one of our round-trips to DC, lo and behold it looks like the sliver view might be retained after all. Very happy...called doc for prescription for Ritalin.

September 21, 2009 - And so it goes. Building topped off, and for now our sliver remains. It's good to be zen about these things.

September 22, 2009 - Oh, how do I know it's topped off? Well, they plant one of these on the roof when a building is topped off. I think it's called, ummm, a topping off ceremony, and it's done for practically every construction project in the city.

But really, do you think I was that worried about losing a precious bit of view? Nah, not me. I like to think about how health care services will improve in our neighborhood. Especially for people who can't afford quality health care. I'm not getting started on politics here, though. And the project will eventually bring lots of jobs and increased revenue to the neighborhood as well, which is a good thing.

I've also learned a thing or two regarding complaining about things you have no control over, thanks to SE. Whether or not it'll change how I react to things remains to be seen - or at least until the next large construction project starts taking place outside our windows.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Early DC Impressions - We Prefer La Preferida

Well, as I said in my last post almost two weeks ago (!), Significant Eater and I have been getting set up in a nice little apartment in downtown DC - on N Street, and she started her new job (loves it, btw) just last Monday. But what a two weeks it was. Three (or was it four?) round-trips by car, numerous trips to Target, Ikea, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and Calvert Woodley for booze - where some of the pricing makes no sense to me, when I have the luxury here in NYC of shopping at Astor Place and Wherehouse Liquors. Think $23 for Rittenhouse BIB, and some of you know what I mean. But, at least they stock it.

There's even a Harris Teeter, a Southern-based grocery chain, which my buddy turned me onto as one of the key supermarkets to shop at...with parking. They put out those fancy sample trays (with domes!) all around the store, too - but you don't eat out of those, do you? Just think of how many kids reached in to grab a slice of apple after wiping their runny noses with their hands, and I bet you'll stop. Actually, I think they should call them H1N1 domes.

In between all the cleaning, shopping and stocking however, a boy's gotta eat. Oh, SE and I made the obligatory stop at Ben's Chili Bowl, where the half-smoke is good, and the picture of Obama on the wall makes the food taste better than it really is...I wonder, did Michelle make him sleep on the couch after his chili dog?

I digress, so back to food. One of my oldest and closest friends now also lives in DC (and he just started a new job there too - what is this world coming to, with people getting jobs?), so I picked up Miami Danny and dragged him to a couple of places I had spotted on my various shopping excursions around town. And what's the first thing a couple of Jewish kids from Long Island think about when they're thinking about food? Yeah, that's right, ribs. I had spied this joint, located in the 3900 block of 14th St. NW, and just had to give it a try.

Well, wouldn't you? And boy, did it suck. You'd think with that pile of wood stacked up so nicely in the front window, there might be a chance that this would be a place to return to again and again. You'd be wrong. Perhaps the inside should have been a clue - it had more bulletproof glass than a bank in the 70s, and the ribs were delivered (after paying) via a turntable type device which made sure there was no human contact between the "pitmaster" and the customer. I'm pretty sure that the only smoke the ribs saw was the liquid smoke in the over-applied barbecue sauce. And the wings, which if done right can be ethereal, were dry and, I dunno, woody?

That big mitt holding the wings might've tasted better than the wings themselves, but Danny refused to sacrifice it, so off we went to stop number 2, which was a couple of blocks south on that same stretch of 14th St.

Yes, Pepe's Elotes Asados, where just to get the taste of the ribs and chicken out of our systems, we each got a nice ear of roasted corn, along with a tamale...after Danny charmed Ms. Pepe with his excellent Spanglish. The corn didn't taste like a lot of farmer's market corn these days, overly sweet but lacking real corn flavor - instead, it was slightly chewy (not necessarily a bad thing), and with it's coating of mayo, dusting of cheese and sprinkle of lime and chile powder, hit just the right note.

Corn is filling, so we decided to not even taste the tamale, though it looked good. Instead, it was passed along to a "street-person," who declared it "damn good." And off we went to stop numero tres. See, I can speak Spanish too - just not that much.

Now, this was a place I had spotted on a drive back from College Park, MD - the home not only of the University of Maryland Terps, but of Ikea as well. Located in a parking lot at the intersection of New Hampshire and E-W Highway, or Routes 410 and 650 in Takoma Park, it's easy to miss, but keep your eyes open and there she is...

Yes, La Preferida, womanned by two lovely ladies from El Salvador, was no doubt the find of the day. Since pupusas originally hailed from El Salvador, we ordered two pupusas revueltas, stuffed with pork, cheese and refried beans, along with two tacos de lengua, or tongue tacos. So we come full circle, as these two Jewish kids from Long Island are tongue lovers from way back - though I think my mom used to cook her calve's tongue in the de-flavorizer, and certainly didn't serve it on a taco, she started a life-long love of mine for one of the great organ meats.

And we watched as one of the ladies took a handful of masa and shaped and stuffed the pupusas delicately and with purpose. Onto the griddle to cook, Danny and I waited patiently for this not-so-fast food. It was worth the wait, as we drove away to find a shady spot (on Elm Street, no less) where we could enjoy the food. The pupusas were great, a little greasy, a little crispy around the edges, and meltingly tender. Like a great pizza, the cheese, pork and dough come together in each bite, even going so far as to burn the roof of my mouth.

And the tacos. Oooh, the tacos. Bursting with perfectly stewed tongue, topped with freshly chopped tomatoes, avocado slices, shredded queso fresco and served with a piece of lime and a bit of a green chili salsa hot enough to melt the floorboards of my Camry, these were better than any tacos I've had on the east coast. Though I don't think tacos are native to El Sal, these ladies sure know how to cook 'em. And I know I'll be stopping at this place as often as I can on my trips into and out of the district. Take a gander at these: