Dining Out

28th October
2014
written by Arthur

I’m exhausted and energized in that way you only feel in Las Vegas: the feeling of a untold number of hours without sleep away from the sun or any other indication of the true time. I’m tiered from the near sleepless thirteen and a half hour flight from New York to Tokyo, but as I emerge into the Narita airport I’m vitalized. I’m in Japan. It’s just a short layover extended an hour or so by my connecting flight’s delay–still I’m at least partially in Japan.

I’m not hungry, but it would be a crime against myself to not eat something. The first place I pass is a McDonalds. I’m always curious to see what this sandwich franchise chooses to put forward abroad. The most interesting here is a (from what I could gather with no English as a guide) a double quarter pounder on black/gray bun with a black sea weed sauce. Japan really gets into Halloween by changing up its sandwiches. Seriously, this a Halloween thing. The picture of the burger on the board is next to a grinning jack-o-lantern and above a witch fly a broom. Still, I pass McDonalds. I consider a noodle place or a spot offering something called a spicy hamburger and potatoes (which is depicted as a burger patty, mashed potatoes and what looks like gravy) or some curry. My unhungry stomach is not persuaded. I keep walking until I stumble on a sushi restaurant. I’m skeptical of the sushi spot. Wouldn’t ramen be a better airport food? But ramen just seems like too much food so I grab a seat at Sushi Kyotatsu. I made the right choice.

Sushi Kyotatsu

Sushi Kyotatsu

I ordered a beer an look over the menu. I decide on a sampler and a side order of sea urchin. The food arrives fast. I mean really fast. Before my sleep deprived brain can fully take in the restaurant or the half dozen or so men behind the sushi bar. The plate looks great. Everything in a neat little place. I notice that there is not wasabi to be seen. (Legit sushi establishments pack as much wasabi as they think a given bite needs onto the nigiri  or into the roll and don’t let the diner mess up the meal with their own seasoning.) There is soy sauce at the table which I pour, but, after trying a few virginal bites, I decide to go without.

The meal is amazing. Hands down without a doubt the best tuna roll I’ve ever eaten. Flavor (tuna, small bit of wasabi, a little hit of rice wine) is all there. And the texture is perfect. The salmon nigiri is among the best I’ve had. The high quality cut of fish nearly melts in my mouth. The sea urchin is more of a choped solid than the goo I’m use to–a wholly different texture– and of course the flavor hits the mark. The other fish, the roe, and the egg don’t disappoint. At this point I’m full. I don’t need another bite. But I scan the menu for something else to try. Tragically, they are out of octopus so I adventure and order the sardine which is also incredible. The sardine tastes like nothing out of a can has a perfectly prepared amount of wasabi and soy sauce on the nigiri.

This country takes their fish seriously. I can’t wait for the day that I can venture out of the airport and see what Japan really has to offer.

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23rd September
2014
written by Arthur
My Little Margie's Fried Fish

My Little Margie’s Fried Fish

As the hours passed on the train ride from Penn Station to Buffalo, New York, I dreamed of the culinary delights that awaited me. Before planning the trip to visit Carly’s grandmother, I knew of Buffalo solely as the birthplace of Buffalo wings—a food onto which far too little serious praise is heaped. But, in planning the trip, I learned of Beef on Weck: Buffalo’s take on the roast beef sandwich. It wasn’t until on the ground in Buffalo that I learned that the Friday fish fry is held in as high regard as it’s better known brethren.

On arrival, Carly’s grandmother (and life long Buffalo native) picked us up from the train station. As we drove to her home, we got a quick tour of the area. I learned that the denizens of this fine town love their beer (hard to drive a block and not pass a bar), wings, subs, and pizza (at least one of which was proudly advertised on the sings outside of every establishment). On the drive, I also learned that the Friday fish fry was a tradition. I didn’t buy it at first. Sure some people take on the $1 Friday fish sandwich at McDonald’s during lent; but people don’t do the fish thing in late summer–not  in 2014.

But, as we we passed bar after bar on our way to My Little Margie’s, I could smell the fish’s frying oil in the air. The smell was thick as we walked through the door of the our dining spot the smell got thicker and nearly patron sat in front of a huge plate of fried fish, French fries, macaroni salad, potato salad, and coleslaw. Our mission was  to introduce me to beef on weck, but it seemed criminal to skip the fish fry. And since we were at it we were at it, why not throw in a few wings as well. We ordered our beef on weck (one sandwich each), five wings for the table, and a mini fish fry to share.

The portions were mind blowing. The fried fish alone stretched across a plate covered in fries and all the other aforementioned mentioned sides. The beef overflowed the kummelweck roll (a Kaiser roller topped with kosher salt and caraway). The wings were just a welcomed bonus. So much food. And it all looked amazing.

The food tasted as good as it looked. I started with the wings which were solid–exactly as a wing should be. Next I was on to try my first bite of beef on weck. Yum. After a few bites I added a generous amount horseradish sauce and gravy (not au jus as often done). It was good meat, and a hearty but, all with great flavor. Over time the saltiness of the roll got to me and I was forced to order another beer where Carly’ grandma scrapes of the salt chucks to begin with. But the shocking highlight was the fish.

The fried fish was unambiguously the best fried fish I’ve ever had. A beer batter formed a hard, but not too hard, shell outside of my aquatic friend. The crust had a rich taste. The crunchy texture was almost that of a super sized onion ring. And the white fish hiding inside was perfectly flaky and presented the right level of fish flavor. No fish and chips of my past can compare.

I was sold on Buffalo on the spot. My Little Margie’s’ wasn’t even our original destination (that famous beef on weck house was closed due to unfortunate circumstances). Margie’s was just a last minute spot picked based mostly on convenience. It was just a bar with a few seats and a menu. A place seemingly like so many we passed on the drive from the train station. And it was awesome. Buffalo know how to eat.

 

11th February
2014
written by Arthur

Living in New York, I miss a car and driving. Day-to-day, it’s great to be able to get on the train, pull out my Kindle, and get to my destination hands free–to not question that last beer at happy hour. But some days I just miss the road. Not just short drives, but the long epic drives.

There is nothing like a road trip. I have great memories of making the six hour drive back to the Twin Cities from Chicago with a car full of debate students (I used to coach) or long drives with my friend Rick to various corners of the Midwest. For Spring break my senior year of college, some friends and I convinced a teacher to give us class credit for a road trip through the Dakotas and Montana if we loosely tied the trip to Native American literature and provided some documentation of our travels. We covered 3,700 miles in six days. These trips are filled with memories of stops at random hole in the wall diners, the crackle of static over 2 am talk radio, the texture of a double cheeseburger that has been “marinating” in the back seat for three hours, and the miles of open road.

So it happened, that when Carly and I discussed our holiday plans, we ended-up deciding to drive our way up from Tampa to New York. Rather than making a straight go, we planned a winding route over four days. Our schedule left us with a night in Savannah, Georgia and two nights in a cabin in the mountains of North Carolina. We plotted a leisurely pace allow for what ever random food spot or tourist trap might catch our eye.

To started our first leg, we pulled of Carly’s parents’ driveway headed towards Gainesville. We stopped in the home of the Florida Gators so that Carly could show me her college town. Unfortunately, with winter break in full effect, our plan A, B, and C lunch spots were closed. Fortunately, Leonardo’s pizza was not. In a crazy mood, I kicked of my road trip eats with a vegan pizza.  The “cheese” left a lot to be desired, but the tomatoes, onions, and veggies were what I craved. The garlic knots were delicious, massive, and filling.  I can only assume that Leonardo’s has saved many a drunk soul.

After Leonardo’s, we were on to Savannah, with a small detour to Jacksonville to exchange rental cars. We were on the road for real. We checked into our hotel and were off to explore the city and find some sustenance. At the recommendation of the front desk, we headed to Moon River Brewing Co for dinner.  We ordered and shared a feast: shrimp and andouille sausage  ravioli, deviled eggs plated tuna tartare, friend green tomatoes with crab salad, and black eyed pea salad.  To drink it all down, we delved into their signature brews. The food was inspired even if the beers were unmemorable. Our hunger satiated, we took to the brick and cobble stone streets for a little more drink.

Lured by the sounds of live music, we swung into what appeared to be a nondescript pub. Once at the bar it became clear that Molly MacPherson’s was a Scottish, not an Irish pub.  The Scottish heritage of the pub was given away by the dozens of bottle of very fine Scotch whiskey behind the bar. As lovers of whiskey, we started off in this realm (the Bartenders Scotch flight for the misses and a Bruichladdie Bourbon Cask 16 followed by a Springbank 10 for me). Our tastes dulled, we moved on to beers–culminating in a whiskey sour and Bell Two Hearted to go–we just had to take advantage of Savannah’s friendly open container laws.

Our slow awakening was followed by a Southern inspire breakfast at Rocks Grille.  Carly fueled for the day of driving with the Rocks Benedict–poached eggs, ham, tomato, spinach on English muffin and added a bonus side of real southern grits.  I went the route of the Southern Benedict — biscuit with sausage gravy and grits. After a final walk through Forsyth Park and a drive to pick-up cookies for gifts, we were back on the road and North Carolina bound. Once in the car, we were quickly across a bridge, out of Georgia and into South Carolina.

The drive from Savannah to pilot mountain was my favorite stretch of the trip. As we drove, billboards (mile after mile) alerted us to the approach of South of the Border. Knowing that the quality of any establishment is inversely related to the number of billboard for said establishment (Stephen Hawking discusses this inverse square law in Brief History of Time) I could tell that this place was going to be cheesy gold. We had to stop. We perused the gift shop. Visited the reptile museum and witnessed a steakhouse in the shape of a sombrero. For my friends in the Midwest: think Wall Drug, but BIGGER and with Mexican theme on the level of Speedy Gonzales! The detour was worth every second, but all good things must come to an end and we were back on track for the mountains.

Our next stop was the Love Shack.  (No joke–click the link.  Once we found a bed and breakfast cabin in the mountains called the Love Shack, how could we not stay there?!) As we drove and sun set our minds turn to evening sustenance. To take full advantage of our mountain getaway, we stopped by a grocery store to pick-up bread, cheese, veggies, beer, and wine. We were set.  Or so we thought. After unpacking and starting a fire we laid out our spread. But, to our extreme disappointment, the bread had gotten lost in the shuffle at check-out. With a critical ingredient missing we had to be resourceful.  I snuck my way into the kitchen of the bed and breakfast and pilfered a few slices of bread.  Stale bread as it turned out. To save the bread and our meal I impaled the bread on the end of a knife and toasted our slices over the fire.  It wasn’t an ideal dinner, but it was the adventure road trips are made of.

The next morning it was time for the breakfast side of the Piolt Mountian bed and breakfast.  A main building housed a dinning room and the kitchen I had pillaged the night before.  A mother daughter team alternated taking orders and cooking breakfast to order. I opted for the waffles (which I layered in various jams and jellies) and bacon.  Carly’s tackled Turkey sausage and scrambled eggs. We were off to very satiated start to the day.

Our lunch spot was the one destination on road trip I insisted we stop at: Leon’s Burger Express, home of “the famous California cheeseburgers.” The website of the B&B list some local dinning options, including this Mount Airy gem. A quick glance and Leon’s website locked me. The pictures of the place and the insanely low prices screamed local haunt. When we arrived, the place was about half full of families and few older folks at the counter with the town paper in hand. Carly and I each ordered the famous California cheeseburgers, she with and order of fries and me with an order of onion rings. I supplemented with a fried bologna sandwich. Sitting at the counter, we watch a middle aged man in a once white apron drop our fries and rings in the deep fryer as he cooked our burgers and my bolonga on a well seasoned grill. Our gaze fell on the home computer printed anti-Obama signs, the Browning wall paper, and the worn counter. The food was spot on.  The burgers had been cooked with the onions, preserving moisture. The bologna sandwich was my first data point of that food type fried, but was a winner.  In the Pilot Mountain area, this hole in the wall is a most stop food spot.

After Leon’s, we hit candy shops of Main Street and acquired Gummies, chocolate covered Espresso beans , snow caps, and gummy watermelons. After tour of a museum dedicated to the history of the region, we wrapped-up out Mt. Airy excursion with some local wine at Olde North State Winery.

After a nap, we were ready for dinner.  It wouldn’t have been right to leave North Carolina without some barbecue, so we hit Bib’s Downtown in Winston-Salem. In the 50’s car dealership turn restaurant, we feasted to the point of discomfort on ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, hush puppies, red slaw, bib’s beans, and Mac ‘n cheese all washed down with large glasses of sweet tea. We then headed to the arts district and settled our stomachs with a little whiskey at Luna’s, a tiny dive bar. But the night wasn’t over. It was time for some live music at the Garage.  If you find yourself in Winston-Salem, wander over to the Garage. If you shrunk the place and filled with too cool for school kids you could drop the Garage in the middle of Williamsburg. But the space is generous, the group chill, and the bartender talkative. We chatted with the partial owner/bar tender as folks filtered in and the first band set-up. Per our new friend, the place hosts everything form hard core metal to the country to the chill indie we were about to enjoy. The man exuded nothing by friendliness, pride in the venue, and a love of music.  I sipped a couple locally brewed Frostbite IPA as we enjoyed the show.

The next morning it was time for another breakfast in the breakfast room before hitting the road. En route to a train in D.C. for the final leg of our journey, we managed a stop at both Chick-Fil-A and a Cook Out. (Cook Out is a Southern fast food spot famous for their multitude of milk shake options.) And so, road tiered and full of amazing eats, we exited our train in Penn. Station and returned to real life and a few days of kale salads.

[There are a number of pictures that I would love to integrate, but I don’t want to let perfect stand in the way of good–maybe soon!]

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15th November
2013
written by Arthur

City SubsDespite having relearned the lesson over and over again through out my life, I sometimes forget that the simplest things can make me profoundly happy. This last Saturday, I was reminded of the simple joy of a well executed sub sandwich. I was relaxing on the couch with Carly and taking in some early afternoon college football when the topic of subs some how came-up. In particular, the topic of City Sub: they are awesome (so I was told) and I had never had one. After this news, I spent the better part of the second quarter of the game ruminating on sandwiches. A half-time walk in the fall air brought me to the doors of the lauded establishment.

The line from the counter to the door was the first sign that I had not been led astray. Patrons waited patiently for their chance to order as a team of two efficiently sliced meats and cheese, toasted buns, assembled sandwiches, and took new orders. The wait allowed me to contemplate my tempting options–the list of pre-set subs are posted on the walls and spiral into low thirties. And there are the choices of tomato, paper thing onions, pickles, olives, sweet or hot peppers, spreads and oils to add. So many delicious options.

City Sub

And it was good. Making a choice was not easy, but in the end I selected ham and salami with provolone (untoasted) while Carly chose smoked turkey and smoked ham with smoked gouda. Back in front of the game, the bread played a rock star role in every bite of our mammoth subs.  Not just a vessel for holding meats and veggies City Sub’s bread adds texture and a bit of flavor as a good sub bread should. I preferred my untoasted bread, but could see the appeal in a melted sandwich. The veggies are sliced thin to maximize surface area and flavor.

In a city packed full of sandwiches shops, City Subs operates in the upper echelon. I can’t wait for a return trip to this fine Brooklyn staple.

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25th October
2013
written by Arthur

I’ve been thinking and talking a lot about French fries.  I’m a strong believe that fries are one of the most underrated foods out there.  Yes, you can get them almost everywhere and yes people across America eat them by the bushel full.  But still, they get no respect. A crisp outside with a soft interior… it’s culinary magic. Thrillist, recognizing the magic of the fry, recently did a French fry power ranking.  The following are my mad ramblings on the subject (re-organized from an email exchange with Carly on the subject).

Steak fries are amazing. In part because they are great for scooping sauce (ketchup and/or mayo please!). On the other hand, regular old fries have a little bit of a better crisp though.  On the regular fries, a mixture of ketuchup and mustard is nirvana. If forced to choose between the two, I’ll take the platonic steak fry over an ideal regular fry. But, at the end of the day, steak fries seem more likely to be or get soggy.  The struggles of the idyllic versus the real world.

Waffle fries are best for toppings (chili, cheese, etc.) because they are basically a built in scoop.

Tatter tots are fantastic—though need to be considered separately from fries. And on the subject of excluding items from the list, kick the home fries too… good, but not true fries.  If we let in tots and home fries where are the hash browns I love for breakfast? Shame on you Thirlist!  Shame.

I constantly forget curly fries exist.  They are a great novelty, but almost always seem to disappoint.

Shoe strings:  Good.  But all crisp.  I like the soft middle of the other fry varieties.  The sauce is even more critical with these guys than usual.  Though with risk comes reward; these can provide a perfect canvas for interesting aiolis.

Crinkle cut fries are designed to be eaten with dogs or burgers fresh off the grill and preferably eaten outside at a red and white plaid plastic table cloth.  For BBQ time, these guys might be the winner.

Almost every fry is great. It’s hard to find a fry I hate. Under cooked, oily, crisp free fries do it, but these are so rare (and horrific) that any conversation of them can be cut-off here. *Shudder*

Think about your next French fry. Their ubiquitous nature only makes them all the more the culinary wonder.

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8th February
2013
written by Arthur

A while back, some colleagues and I got to talking about spice tolerance.  One thing led to another and  I somehow found myself committed to the P’Hall curry challenge at Bricklane Curry House.  The challenge had been on my mind since I first saw Adam Richman take down this bowl of inferno on Man v. Food (see below).  I even had plans with various NYC cohorts to take on the challenge, but we never seemed to be able to pull of the coordination.  Though to the detriment of my taste buds, my stomach, and my pride, this week, I finally made it with a group of coworkers (one of whom took the challenge with me).    

The deal is simple.  Thirty minutes to take down a 16 ounce bowl of the stuff and you get a certificate, a beer, and your picture on the website.

To state the obvious, the curry is hot.  Not the hottest thing ever to pass my lips.  That honor goes to the bomb.  But, unlike other fiery concoctions I’ve encountered before, there was just too much.  I got through most of the chicken and maybe a quarter of the sauce.  The only flavor discernible above the heat was the bitter sweet flavor of one of the less finelly chopped chilies.  The heat wore on me as the water, rice and, bread I foolish used in my attempts to quell the burn filled my stomach until I couldn’t take another bite–I felt sick.

I may have lost the battle, but I don’t consider the war over.  An observing coworker thinks she has what it takes and my fellow challenger is eager to declare victory.  I’m reformulating my strategy away from rice and water and preparing mentally for a rematch in the next few weeks!

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20th December
2012
written by Arthur

December has been a bad month for posts.  Between work, boozy holiday festivities, and recovery from said festivities my free time at the keyboard has, yet again, been very limited.  But lets make up for it with a little potty humor (and continued limited typing by me)!

 

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6th November
2012
written by Arthur

If you’re a line cook, a dishwasher, a porter? Chances are, you’re paid by the hour. Even if your employer wanted to pay you for sick days and vacations, chances are, he can’t. If you’re anything like I was during my 28 years in the business, you’re already living paycheck to paycheck. You’re already struggling to make rent. Any unplanned cash flow interruption is going to cause some serious problems…

So, let’s do what we can. Just cause a little DIY place has got its power back on, doesn’t mean the bleeding has stopped. While there is no doubt that there are still people with direct, immediate, emergency needs, it would be a great help if those who can afford to do it would eat in the most seriously afflicted areas as early and as often as they can, patronizing local businesses in areas that were clearly hit hardest.

Tip heavily. And maybe send a $20 back to the dishwasher.

That’s not charity. It’s just neighborly.

Anthony Bourdain’s full article/blog post can be found at Eatocracy.

While this should not take the place of more targeted relief, I may need to make a trip this weekend to some of my favorite spots in hard hit Red Hook.

25th October
2012
written by Arthur

One of the best pizzas at my favorite pizza place introduced me to this strange ingredient.  The bartender told me had to order the Smoked Pancetta pizza just to give the black garlic topping a try.  And he was right.  Each blackened clove was delicious.

So how does black garlic get its color?  There are false rumors that the darkness is imparted through a balsamic vinegar infusion.  Though the infusion theory is believable from the flavor, the real secret is fermentation.  South Korea pioneered its use and chefs here in the good old US of A have started integrating it into their dishes.

The black garlic’s flavor is subdued relative to its raw, or even cooked, relations.  The closest approximation is roasted garlic.  But with a similar mellow flavor and hints of sweetness,  the black garlic also offers up some elusive savoriness.

Every time I order the Smoked Panchetta, I dream of a little dish filled with these black diamonds, some freshly toasted bread, and a knife for spreading.  Thankfully I just thought to look through the great series of tubes that is the internet and have found the stuff is widely available.  Black garlic bread, here I come!

1st September
2012
written by Arthur

Hidden in the middle of an office park in Columbia, Maryland is a gem.  If you can manage to navigate through Stanford Road, Standford Avenue, Stanford Circle, Stanford Lane, Stanford Way, and Stanford Drive you’ll find a wood-panelled dining room.  A place where quiet music from a live jazz band floats through the dimly lit air.

It’s been almost twelve hours since I took my last bite of key lime pie at the Stanford Grill and I’m almost ready to think about food.  After driving five or so hours from New York, with nothing but a bag McDonald’s dollar menu food to sustain us, we were ready to eat!  For half the drive, Nick extolled the virtues of the Stanford.  After ordering drinks I was skeptical.  Our waiter was confused when I ordered a negroni, after a consultation with the bartender I had to walkthrough the drink’s construction.  But all was well.  An adequate negroni (and mysterious bonus glass of gin) arrived.  And the quality of the food stood above that of the bar.

I ordered the bone-in ribeye steak, but was convinced to go surf and turf and add a crab cake.  Before I could get the words out of my mouth, Nick put in an order of the mac and cheese starter.  The mac and cheese was a solid and extremely cheesy dish.  I prefer a more refined version with top layer of bread crumbs for texture.  But this dish satisfied my taste buds and thrilled my stomach.  The crab cake contained large chunks of crab held together with the right amount of breading.  And the steak,  Oh the steak.  I haven’t had one in a restaurant since Peter Luger and I was not disappointed with my choice.  A perfect light char surrounding a medium rare center.  The mashed potatoes side was well executed as were the green beans, though I decided to forgo much of them so as to take down every bit of protein on my plate.  I continued to devour steak as my fellow diners ordered and received desserts.  Cleaning the bone, I accepted generous offers of bites of key lime pie and  crème brûlée.  The key lime pie was extraordinary (says the man who usually skips dessert).

A meal full of delicious nap inducing excess.  I owe my body a run for this one.  But for now, I think it’s time to consider lunch.

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