Every gastronome has their natural food quirks. Here’s mine: I have an irrational fear of oversalting my food.
My palate is naturally sensitive to salty flavors, so my tongue shrivels up whenever its met with even a dash extra. Rarely do I add it to my dishes (unless if none of my ingredients have salt components - then I reluctantly add a dash of sea salt into the mix) and I openly cringe if I see someone pouring a river of salt onto their dinner at restaurants. I even desalt all of my giant soft pretzels before they depart into my mouth and stomach. Yes, I am aware I’m left with an artistically-twisted piece of dough, but I’m never one to say no to catering to my gluten-filled diet.
This quirk probably stemmed from a lifetime full of dinners that left me feeling like I licked a block of salt just because. Mama Bear was rarely guilty of this cooking sin, give or take one or two instances where the spout from the Morton Salt package broke and led to a freefall of sodium into an otherwise-perfectly-cooked roast chicken + potatoes. God rest her soul, but Grandma O’Keefe had a deeply-rooted relationship with her salt shakers. She was especially notorious for oversalting an already-powerful corned beef. I loved hanging out with my grandma, but I dreaded every Saint Patrick’s Day dinner solely for this reason.
Because I cook most of my food (minus a few days where I get lazy and order out), my diet has low levels of sodium. Don’t get me wrong, I still have a normal amount to maintain a decent way of life. When I’m met with a hefty amount of salty food, though, it throws me out of whack and I can’t function properly for several hours after.
Case in point, a taco tasting I went to last week led to a night filled with migraines and an unattractive case of face bloat. I’m not naming the restaurant, for I usually love them and everything they’re about, but a quick Google search will help you solve this blind item. I was raving about this place to my gal pal Nalini for about a month. She heard way too much about my adoration for their smoked cashew salsa and pistachio-laced guacamole and chili-heavy sweetbreads and lightly-charred Brussels sprouts tacos. Sadly I ended up overhyping this joint, so I could partially blame myself for our inevitable disappointment. Sorry, love.
When one of the least-salty components of the night was the margarita, you know you have an issue on your hands. The night started out well enough; the grilled leek tacos that were rolled out first were the epitome of a perfect vegetarian Mexican dish, and the chefs saved the concept of the crab cake by not overpowering the crustacean with mediocre bread crumbs and pairing it with a sophisticated sea urchin guacamole. The rest of the dishes that came out, though, turned into my own culinary torture chamber. The roast chicken taco with chicken chorizo evidently met the same fate at my mom’s tragic roasted chicken, and the brisket barbacoa reminded me of my grandma’s yearly corned beef mishap. These two did not compare to the damnation of the night, though. What was supposed to be a pleasing bacon taco turned into a oral car crash that I couldn’t help but try again and again. Bacon never needs to be salted since it’s already packed with porky umami. Someone in the kitchen, though, disagreed with that notion and dashed a pile of salt into an already-too-sweet salsa negra. A neat line of sesame seeds lying on top could only distract me so much. Thank goodness for the magical old-fashioned that can cure any culinary curveball, because I would’ve literally died if I wasn’t clutching onto my glass for dear life.
To all of my enemies: if you ever want to kill me quickly and painfully, serve me a six-course salt-infused dinner and throw me into a salt bath right afterwards. You’re welcome.
There are a few memories that remind me of why I fell head-over-heels with New York City while I was growing up. Roaming around outdoor street festivals near NYU, dining around old-school mafia families in the rustically charming Little Italy in the Bronx, and getting absolutely lost with high school boyfriends in Central Park instantly come to mind. When I recall food that defined the Big Apple for me, though, one underrated sugary sweet stood out amongst the rest - the humble black and white cookie.
My first rendezvous with the cookie happened during one of many father-daughter days in the city while I was in elementary school. My Papa Bear wanted to expose me to the Big Apple at a young age because growing up in East Harlem played a big role in shaping the person he is today. While looping around the confusing streets of the Greenwich Village one springy Saturday, we eventually became parched and he introduced me to one of his favorite bakeries, Rocco’s on Bleecker Street. He raved on and on about their sesame cookies ( he probably ended up buying a three-pound box of them that day), but I was mesmerized by this mod, bold pastry the size of my face. Usually my body could handle eating a mountain of sugar, but I could only finish half of this beautiful monstrosity. I had never tasted such a lovely mix of chocolate and vanilla before, and the subtle layer of lemon curd lying underneath was fascinatingly beautiful. It was a flavor that could never escape my palate.
It’s been stated before, but eating a black and white cookie is like taking bites out of the New York from yesteryear. The recipe has rarely changed since it was first concocted in upstate New York in the early 1900s. A handy circular sponge-cake (yes, sponge-cake…no wonder why the half-moon is the bastard child of the cookie family) is topped with an even split of a glossy vanilla and milky chocolate fondant. Bakers can only do so much to spice up the final product, but their only goal is to perfect the bites they fondly look back on.
For the last year or two, I’ve been casually hunting down the city’s best black and white. Sometimes I also plan dates solely to drag them on my quest to find the perfect cookie. Needless to say, they rarely want to plan another date with the beauty with the gut of a chubby child. While I haven’t hit up the seemingly excellent Nussbaum & Wu quite yet (note to self: take a trip next time you have a bagel date with your brother), I have stumbled on a few standouts.
Donut Pub: Initially I came here because it was the setting of one of my favorite episodes of Louie, but I stick around for their black and white. They don’t even mess around with the classic recipe, but they never need to. When fresh out of the oven (or even after a terrible night at a club I was dragged to - thank god for 24/7 hours), this is a flawless dessert that cannot be messed with. You can most often find me here after a hearty Cuban dinner at the neighboring Coppelia or post-cocktail-hour at Raines’ Law Room or The Tippler.
William Greenberg Desserts: Sometimes I take myself out on dates because I believe in the “treat yo’self” lifestyle. After a few hours of laughing at hallways of modern art and reenacting the Ferris Bueller art gallery scene by myself, I think I earned the right to splurge on a giant dessert-filled lunch. One plus of coming here is that they mix things up by offering seasonal flavors when appropriate. During one trip to the Met in the autumn, I doublefisted a pumpkin and sweet potato variety while walking down Madison Avenue like a boss. No regrets, both were killer.
Amy’s Bread: This one is a relatively newbie in that it made its debut in the last few weeks. Twitter informed me of this and I had a bit of a love fest with whoever runs their social media account. After a few sad attempts of showing up immediately after they sold out of their black and whites, I managed to sneak in a trip after a morning gallivanting at the Union Square Greenmarket. With a few subtle changes (their use of a super-rich fudge and vanilla beans in lieu of artificial flavorings), I was introduced to a grown-up take on a childhood favorite. I’m already kind of a regular at their Hell’s Kitchen outpost, but now I’ll be living there because of my new favorite. Should I just start contributing to rent now?
One of the greatest things about my job is having the privilege to review new restaurants in my neck of the woods. It gives me the opportunity to frequent new haunts and gems that would fall under my radar otherwise, and it allows me to work on my writing in a more condensed form. I have a tendency to ramble, so being forced to summarize a visit in two sentences is quite the feat.
This week I had to hit up a bar/restaurant in the Lower East Side, Rosette. I invited my beloved friend Chaz to accompany me since the Lower East Side is his stomping grounds and he appreciates the art of a good Deviled Egg. Getting to East Broadway was a feat, especially when there was a negative seventeen degree wind chill. After my fifth wrong turn, I contemplated taking a pit stop at FedEx to make a “Help me find my way to 171 E Broadway because there is no hope for me and my map-reading skills” sign to put on my back. I decided against it and finally made it to Rosette.
Upon whisking my way through the heavy curtains blocking the front entrance, I find myself in this romantically lit lounge-slash-dining room. A couple of super-cozy couches lead to a couple of intimate two-and-four-top tables followed by a hallway leading to a dining room that was already full of people trying out Rosette’s dinner menu for the first time (conveniently enough, they launched dinner service the night that I decided to go). Since intimate conversations needed to be had about finding Chaz a mate on OKCupid, we chose to friendly-canoodle at a candlelit two-topper close to the bar. Behind the bar were two bartenders who are very animated with their cocktail shakers, so I got easily distracted. The waiter with the beautifully wavy hair took care of us, and we ordered the following:
In short, this goes into my Top Three Places I’ve Reviewed for Work so far. I’m going through their dinner menu right now, and it’s a serious tease. Their Ember Roasted Leeks (accompanied with pecan butter and huckleberry jam) and Striped Bass (with sunchoke puree and parmesan broth) sound like they should be served to me as my last meal before I die. Be right back, booking my return trip now.
A somewhat-responsible New Year’s Eve in with some friends meant that we had to overindulge for our first meal of 2014. Cooper’s Bar and Kitchen is right down the block from my best friend’s apartment in the East Village, so we were naturally inclined to drift over there for brunch. The allure of $5 mimosas and bloody marys drew them in, but the sheer concept of breakfast poutine won over my gluttonous heart.
These Canadian nachos had it all – perfectly-cut spuds, decadent cheese curds that will linger beneath your thin layers of skin for hours to come, oxtail gravy laced with smoky bacon, pickled chiles that warms up your esophagus as it takes the journey down to your stomach, and two eggs only the best of chefs could poach. It was the dish my fat kid dreams were made of. The delicious reality set in as I took my first bite: this poutine is what love probably tastes like. My fondness for this potato mountain only grew more and more until only a pool of curds and gravy were left floating at the bottom of my shallow bowl.
I’m now on a quest to find the plate of poutine that can match up to the level of infatuation I fell into on this fateful New Year’s morning. My gut is fucked, but I can’t control what food I fall head over heels for.
Marge: What’s Brunch?
Jacques: You’d love it, It’s not quite breakfast, it’s not quite lunch, but it comes with a slice of cantaloupe at the end.
Days have been cluttered with to-do lists and projects that pay the bills (just barely) and mediocre granola bars and chores and constant reminders that I’m supposed to act like an adult. All I craved was a few moments to put life on pause and read a little on the High Line. What better excuse to do just that right after a morning job interview?
I managed to finish about 97 pages of Cathy Erway’s The Art of Eating In before my Blue Bottle’s New Orleans iced coffee ran dry and my pale wintry complexion turned a gazpacho shade of red. My parched body was craving a cool-me-down. It hit me that I passed by the La Newyorkina cart about 90 minutes prior, so a paleta was definitely suitable for a pre-lunch snack.
Despite my girl crush on owner Fany Gerson and my utmost support of her Kickstarter campaign post-Superstorm Sandy, I never got around to trying her signature product. Her Latin American spin on the typical ice pop initially lured New Yorkers under her spell, but her bold-ass flavors have kept people wanting more. Friends + friends of friends have rubbed it in my face about how Gerson’s mango chili and hibiscus pops are the adult childhood treat of their dreams. I’ve waited long enough to treat myself to one of these babies.
I made my move around high noon, right around the same time when European tourists were also craving something chilly. One customer was surprised by a sneak-attack, thanks to the intensity of the heat in the mango chili. His superb reaction partially contributed to me ordering a tamer flavor (that, and I didn’t feel like having my face melt like Major Toht in Indiana Jones ). From the corner of my eye, I saw that a coconut lime flavor was scratched on the chalkboard menu. It was calling to me and I had to have it.
From the first unsexy flick of the tongue, I was hooked. The super-creamy coconut milk is a superb accompaniment to the zesty lime that was scattered throughout. The flavor remained consistent to the last drop, and it was an absolute delight to have that tropical tang coating the roof of my mouth for an additional few minutes. With every single lick, I kept thinking to myself, La Newyorkina, where have you been all my life?
This teaser of summer clearly wasn’t enough for me. I’ve been contemplating how to relive these few fantastic moments under the blaring hot sun on the High Line. Solutions I’ve come up with: 1) Pick up Gerson’s Paletas cookbook and recreate her works of frigid art; 2) Freestyle LOTS of paletas with my new full-sized freezer and hope for the best; or 3) Just go back and hit up the cart every day between Memorial and Labor Day because laziness takes over very quickly.
Some of my favorite food comes from shady joints. The exterior may be intimidating (and perhaps you might get mugged on the way between the door and the Seat Yourself sign), but all that matters is the food that comes out of those grimy-looking kitchens. The cooks in the back might grunt and snarl a bit when they receive your order, but you forgive their unrequited anger when you take a gnarly bite into whatever’s on your plate.
Aside from the stellar fish tacos from my favorite surf bar, the best taco I’ve ever came from an authentic (if not nerve-rattling) location. A two-minute walk from my apartment leads me to an incredible Mexican bodega, Tehuitzingo. I became infatuated with the big T after stumbling in one hot summer’s day looking for cheap chipotle and cotija cheese. A haunting green-tinted light peeked out from the back of the bodega, so my curiosity led me to the spooky abyss. Fortunately I was greeted with untucked businessmen, hungry regulars, and the best (slash only) pork ear & goat tripe tacos I ever put in my stomach.
You probably have some chances to crash a Mexican bodega, but I bet you never ate food served in a shopping cart before. Usually I stock up on tamales shipped from a family friend in Puerto Rico, but an opportunity to eat ones just as satisfying arose last St. Patrick’s Day. Instead of passing out in pubs like half of the city’s population was, I went on a midnight food crawl in Corona (run by Jeff Orlick; the dude knows his shit). The tour was memorable enough with the assortment of tortas and sopa de elote I was eating along the way. This one tamale lady on a dark street corner, though, was the MVP of the night. This woman’s so under the radar that a Google search results in one Yelp review and an article about her getting fined by the po-po. The only hype this woman needs is from the select few who get the chance to eat her food. I ordered a mole tamale and a horchata for under $3. What resulted was a brief road trip to PR, led by my trusty taste buds. This lady’s simple tamales brought me back to a time where I discovered them for the first time when I was just an eager child eating them by the pile.
My latest discovery came in the form of a normal Lower East Side hole-in-the-wall with a world-renowned reputation. Chef Andy Ricker blows the roof off the Pad Thai you’ve grown so accustomed to with his joint, Pok Pok Phat Thai. Walking a few steps below into a sunken space decorated with Thai vinyls might not seem like your cup of tea for dinner, but the food more than makes up for the possible skepticism. Their signature phat thai ruam has surprises buried under every rice noodle. Dried tofu, palm sugar, rendered pork fat, tamarind, fish sauce – beat still my heart! Throw on some lime juice and chili flakes on top and you got yourself an authentic Thai experience. Their take on a popular night market staple, hoi thawt, is for the adventurous – they take the crepe to the nth degree with the additions of mussels and garlic chives. Cap it off with a Thai iced tea with lime juice (it works a LOT better than it sounds) and you’ll never go hungry again.
Currently I’m in the works to reside back in the lovely borough of Queens, which means I’ll have plenty of opportunity to discover even more peculiar places that’ll satisfy my bold-ass palate. I’m up for any recommendations – just don’t send me to a dark alleyway. I’m prepared with some mace, but I don’t want to plan on using it.