ROM Outing – Marlow & Sons

4 05 2009

April had us ROMers meeting in Williamsburg per Roman’s suggestion. The restaurant was Marlow & Sons and good things had been heard about this place. The weather was warm and wonderful and a few of us early arrivals decided to park it outside with some champ & oysters. Well, it was a sparkling white actually, a blanc de blanc . . . the cheapest one on the seasonal menu at that: we’re not quite ballin’ that hard. But it was lovely! Crisp, a little lemony- a perf pairing for our oysters. The service on the other hand, was dramatically lacking: at least when we were seated outside. It was after some pleading with lackadaisical hipsters that we were finally gifted with a request for our order. After fruitless waiting for additional glasses to be doled out to later arrivals, we got them ourselves from the outdoor wait station. One of them was lipstick smeared.

Several ROMers discuss the finer things in life

A couple of ROMers wonder if they will be served before one keels over dead

I like this photo since it capture the gaping basement doors that my chair was situated right in front of. Luckily I did not meet my maker that evening.

There were two kinds of oysters: from New York and Connecticut. The New York ones were bigger and a bit looser, though meaty, while the Connecticut ones were dense and creamier. They were both excellent. One of them were called hemlock which upon googling now and not being able to find I am convinced is some kind of hipster joke about bad seafood.

Upon moving indoors the service did a 180 to become surprisingly prompt. Our party was at the large table in the front room which is styled like an old-timey general store. It was nice to sit up front since the back room evoked claustrophobia when I made a bathroom run. I was a few drinks in and perhaps a bit bleary eyed but I remember a suffusion of neon colored shirts, kaffieh and ironic facial hair as I peeked around corners looking for the bathroom door.

Our party was loud, but so was everyone else. I only noticed one askance look at our table after a particularly offensive joke. I would venture that the excellent cocktail menu has something to do with the din. A sip of “A Few of My Favorite Things” showcased a surprisingly delicious flavor combination of liquorish, orange and Wild Turkey Rye. As for the food, the extremely seasonal food menu was ramps, ramps and more ramps that night. Funny because ROMer Joey & I had just been discussing this vegetable a week ago as in ‘wtf is it?’ (essentially a green onion with a kickier flavor). We went for the gold with a few ramp-y appetizers. I was caught out of left field by a bowl of soft scrambled eggs with ramps that was both delicate and fresh. While fellow ROMer Katie was not impressed, I was dazzled by the way mundane things can be divine when cooked just right. A platter of cured meats (salami, pepperoni, prosciutto) and cheeses were just a’ight. I mean, they were good and all but I live in New York and do not want for such things. If I want a delicious cheese I just visit my friends at East Village Cheese & go nuts. Good cold cuts are similarly not terribly hard to find. The chicken liver pâté was nice but not outstanding although I do remember being wowed by the crispy buttered toast it came with more than the actual pâté. As for main courses, it seems to me like they do a chicken, a beef, a fish and a pork entree on any given night in the style of the moment, give or take some other funny business. I had the pork which on that particular night was sausage wrapped in pork belly to form a flat little steak-shaped piece of pig with a fresh watercress and dill salad served on top. If it weren’t for the greens, the meat may have been on the dry side but the pairing was perfect: the greens, dressed with a bit of mustard vinaigrette cut through the dryness. It was just enough meat to fill me up but not too much to OD. I was, however, more impressed with the beer-braised beef that came served in a bowl on top of some very soft polenta with a texture not unlike the aforementioned scrambled eggs.

At this point we were stuffed with no room for desert. This is fortunate because with an $100 price tag, dinner was not exactly easy on the wallet. But if one is willing to forgo booze, or go easy on it, one could get in and out of there and pay substantially less.

Nightcap and dancing took place at Savalas on Bedford. The only reason I was able to remember the name is because I kept imagining Kojak’s shiny pate as I tried to explain the location to people on the phone. Decent DJ, good tap, high tolerance for drunken antics and, surprisingly, not crawling with hipsters.

At first blush, this bar might appear to lack the room to dance. A little imagination is all it takes

At first blush, this bar might appear to lack room to dance. However, a little imagination is all it takes

So yeah, check out Marlow! This one got a thumbs up from every ROMer in attendance! Go early if you can’t stand a crowd. Since they don’t take reservations it could be a challenge to get a big party seated.


ROM Outing- Sigiri

24 04 2009

In economic times like these a thrifty lady really must have a couple of good BYOB places up here sleeve. Sigiri is certainly one of these.

In our happy world of ROM we busy friends get together, catch up, shoot the breeze and get old fashioned drizzzunk. But we’re not without our inner strife. The choice of Sri Lankan cuisine turned out to be surprisingly controversial. A ROMer(who shall remain anonymous) and fancies him/herself a person of the world, connoisseur of foods and goods produced by the world’s great cultures put his/her lavender-suede shod foot down and refused to partake: something about unpalatable aromas I believe. A rift ensued. Happily, full-on civil war was avoided when the Sri hater had to leave town so a smaller than usual contingent headed to 1st & 6th to find out what Sri Lankan cuisine is all about.

Get some Kingfishers downstairs & bring 'em on up!

Get some Kingfishers downstairs & bring 'em on up!

Around the corner from what used to be called “Curry Row” (6th Street between 1st & 2nd Ave.) but is looking markedly less curry these days, Sigiri is a flight of stairs up from street level. Conveniently it is located above a deli that has an impressive array of international beers including microbrews and a badass selection of Indian beers which would pair excellently with some of the spicy and fried offerings available at Sigiri. Don’t expect a fancy interior. Small and narrow, except for a nice window table it’s pretty cramped. We’re talking about brushing-up-against-waitstaff-on-the-way-to-the-bathroom cramped.  Don’t go with anyone with whom unintentional footsie would be awkward.

Tip: bring stuff that bubbles. Sigiri is a great place for people who likes a spice. Among the B that we brought there was a prosecco and some beer, these cut through the oil and spice of the appetizer sampler nicely. This platter featured an array of fried things that were difficult to distinguish but were quite delicious. With a crispy outside and a nice heat to it, the fish spring role was my favorite. The Gothamba roti was an unmistakable hit as well. The outside was crepe-like and delightfully chewy, the inside featured a sturdy combo of spicy veggies, heavy on potatoes with or without beef. I liked the veggie one better. It’s substantial and ripe for sharing.

The service was lovely. While not super prompt, our party arrived piecemeal and it was not easy to see when we were ready to order. Our waitress, who had a touch of what sounded like a London accent, caused one diner to say, “Yo, she’s like MIA she’ll kick your ass!” although nothing about her demeanor indicated that she was considering such a thing. The entrees require a bit of navigation. Due to the relatively spicy nature of Sri Lankan food, Sigiri offers different levels of heat for many of their entrees. The curry chicken at “medium” level was just right with a kick that complemented the coconut milk in the sauce. Meanwhile, the “very spicy” prawn curry was all heat and salt with little room to distinguish the flavors. The Sri Lankan stew is a hearty mix of vegetables in coconut sauce. While it had a nice flavor it was heavy and the beef inside proved dry: it is not the kind of dish you want to let get cold since it tends to congeal. Meanwhile, the simply prepared Sri Lankan vegetable (it was lotus root that night) was well prepared with just the right amount of coconut and for $7 is one of the best dinner deals for veggies. The Kotthu Roti was a unique dish featuring a shreaded roti (the chewy crepe mentioned before) stir fried with vegetables and meat and served heaped in a ball. It comes with a spicy (or not) broth to spoon on top. After a coupla drinks it seemed like a good idea to ladle the coconut beef stew on top. It was.

Kotthu Roti, touted as a "Sri-Lankan side-street specialty" on the menu. Wonder what the main-street specialties are?

Kotthu Roti, touted as a "Sri-Lankan side-street specialty" on the menu. Wonder what the main-street specialties are?

Sigiri is small enough that it’s a great place for two old friends to catch up and eat and drink cheap. It’s also good to come with a big group and order everything on the menu so you can sample it all and not worry about cardiac arrest when the check comes . . .  unless it’s from the stew. It’s nice to be fancy once in a while. But it’s also nice rock out without breaking the bank.

ROM Outing- Agnanti

7 04 2009

A very overdue post about a restaurant we went to a while back as part of a ROM outing. Agnanti was Katie’s pick, a Greek place in Queens she’d heard a bit about. Since foodie New Yorkers who don’t live in Queens usually feel guilty about not going to all those fabulous places in Queens we hear about (because c’mon IT’S QUEENS), it seemed like a good opportunity to pay a visit to our friends across the river.

Be sure to get the Retsina

Be sure to get the Retsina

Agnanti is not exactly easily accessible via subway. After taking the train out there we walked . . . and walked along Ditmars passing Queens gals on the town in various states of (un)dress. During this journey off a main drag and into increasingly residential ground there was talk of taking a shot before dinner. Regrettably we did not make good on this. It might have been nice to enter a little buzzed since, despite our reservation, they seemed a little overwhelmed by our party of 9 . . . that we’d made reservations for. But we’re a close group, I suppose, and were happy to get a (a lot) closer.

A nice thing about this place is that for $27 per person we were able to do a family style dinner that allowed us to get a taste of a lot of different things. It comes with a platter of mixed appetizers and entrees plus a “kilo” of wine for every four guests. When I checked out Citysearch reviews on this place (after our visit) I saw that many people complained about the wine being overpriced. We ordered retsina which is a Greek white wine with a scent of pine. It may sound strange but it’s really quite delicious and goes with the food nicely. I think this is the only way to go. Said kilos were served in bizarre tin steins that would be Viking-esque were they not light and flimsy.  This, however, did not seem to affect the retsina, as we put away enough to confirm this.

The family style menu comes with a mix of hot and cold appetizers and some salads followed by a mixed grill platter. It also suffered from an affliction which, unfortunately, a recent spate of ROM restaurants have manifested: great appetizers, mediocre entrees. The various salads were excellent as was the warm bread it was served with. There was a plentiful number of things to dip bread in and both the hot and cold appetizers represented Queens like Tribe Called Quest in the 90s. There were all sorts of warm and yummy breaded and fried things and, again, the steins of retsina were going down so nicely. Sadly, when the entrees finally made an appearance, they were quite anticlimactic: a variety of meats cooked past the point of dryness. There was pork, chicken and beef. The pork was the best of the three though still notably dry. The chicken was a’ight and the beef came in little burgers, while it was well seasoned, an argument ensued as to whether it was beef or lamb since it was cooked beyond recognition. The desert,- a fruit and cake-y concoction was unremarkable. I kept coming back for more thinking I would like it better. Since it was winter, perhaps it is more tasty when fresh fruit is more seasonable.

If a person were to venture out to Agnanti, I would argue that the visit would not be complete without a couple of whiskeys at Hellgate on the Park, a bar (and, apparently, an Italian restaurant . . . but only on some nights) that I found precious few words about on the web . . . and nothing worth linking to. But it exists! Barely though. On that cold and dark Tuesday in the dead of winter we were  the only ones there. We got to know our bartender Joey quite well! His name is memorable since we too had a Joey among us . . . imagine that! Despite his terrible taste in music (born in the Q borough, raised in LI, he can be forgiven) he was lovely! He let us dominate the place obnoxiously, did shots with us, cut us a deal AND drove us home. Now that’s service. Some among us were reasonably nervous about jumping in the car with a strange bartender we’d just done shots with, but since there was a large man among us, it seemed safe enough and soon we were careening through midtown screaming along to Bon Jovi (well, at least I was).

So, Agnanti, not the worst place you could go and has a bit of charm to it, but I wouldn’t go out of my way. I’ll leave ya with a photo of the Hellgate bridge which, apparently, exists.

Almost 30 years in the dirty city & I'm just finding out about it. Who knew?

Almost 30 years in the dirty city & I'm just finding out about it. Who knew?

Cooking with Dog

26 03 2009
Cook with me!

Cook with me!

This post is coming straight out of computer hell as my computer is chock loaded with trojans and other lovelies. I think someone is breaking into my office at night to download porn. In fact, the word trojan is vaguely porn-y no? In any case . . . I’ve been lapsing in the posting but partly because of the realization that I need to get my digital camera up & running again so I took it to the shop. More fun stuff to come . . .

I’m a big fan of youtube for learning how to do stuff. Ever since I discovered Maangchi, which I mentioned in a previous post, I realized that youtube user generated content is a great way to learn things because you can seek out exactly what you want and find out how to do it. Also, since these videos tend to be amateur, there is little to no editing so you get to view the process from beginning to end. It’s funny because while I’ve never found cooking shows particularly helpful (although I still love ’em . . . BRING BACK JAPANESE IRON CHEF!), youtube cooking videos have changed my whole repertoire. You can watch them as many times as you need to and there’s nothing like running out of the kitchen with sauce all over you hands to replay a step you’re not quite sure about. That is if you can handle flour on your keyboard. If someone had told me I’d be making kimchi 6 months ago, I’d never have believed it but man, I’ve been churning it out! My Korean friends were floored because they weren’t sure ol’ round eye could pull it off, but I have more than one surprise up my sleeve when it comes to da kitchen. Check out Maangchi’s kimchi video here The kakdugi is slammin btw:

In a similar vein and as some of you may know, the East Village has been recently invaded with a slew of ramen restaurants. The real, honest to goodness stuff they eat in Japan. Many of them are delicious, but most of them can get crowded. We’ve decided that the best as far as quality of noodles is Ippudo on 4th avenue. But try getting a seat there man: Asians of all types come from far and wide for this junk. As a result of the crowding the service is bad, the food takes a long time, you’re awkwardly close to strangers and you risk having your orders confused (ours were when we went). So while the goods are good, the dining experience is subpar.  Check them out on Menupages here since their wesbite is fancy & takes a while to load. There has been a bit of explosion in Ramen Setagayas as they’ve opened branches in addition to the OG one on 2nd ave btw. 8th & 9th. There’s one on St. Mark’s and now one on University Place. Guess students like all types of Ramen, not just the ones called “Top.” We were excited about the opening of a ramen place on 14th & 1st ave (I thought it was called Kombu but can’t find anything online about it) nice and close to home. It’s good! However, it reminded us of our fave place Minca on 5th btw. A & B but with out any of it’s charm: the weird art, cute waitresses and yelly Japanese cooks. If you go to Minca get the spicy basic. Man, yumtown. Some people may be wondering why I have  not mentioned Momofuko. This is because I’m a hater. There are just way too many yuppies packed inside and with all the great restaurants in NYC I am always loathe to wait on lines. Waiting on lines is for tourists . . . and suckas.

Having said all of this, I’d like to share with you my latest discovery and inspiration for this post. In cruising youtube in search of underage girls, I mean cooking videos, I thought it’d be interesting to see one on making real-deal ramen. I got a little more than I bargained for in Cooking with Dog

Luckily the dog is not literally involved in the cooking process in any sense of the word, although I worry for him as he’s seated kind of close to the burner. The recipes are excellent, a touch on the complicated side since it’s real deal J-cooking and you’d really need to have access to a good Asian food store (M2M baby, they got it all! Although for this level of J-ness, Sunrise Mart may be in order) but it’s good stuff. And bizarre. I only wonder how they were able to travel back in time to the 70s to shoot those videos.

Buffalo Trace, a delicious new friend

25 02 2009

Nothing says USA like a nice bourbon. And I discovered a good one recently I’d like to share:

Dangerously Smooth

Disturbingly Smooth

Meet Buffalo Trace. This delicious bourbon runs for around $25 for 750 ml. and is at least as smooth as some much more expensive whiskeys on the market. In enjoying this fine beverage, I began to wonder, what is the official difference between bourbon and other whiskeys? I know that bourbon is corn-based and comes from Kentucky, but there’s got to be more, right? So I did a little research. Turns out that while the difference is corn and the ol’ “made in the USA” label there is a little bit more to it.

Whiskey is the umbrella category for the particular liquor and generally each whiskey producing country just slaps its name on to indicate the country of origin: i.e. Scotch Whisky (they drop the “e.” Scotland is O.G. with the “whisky” so they can do what the want ), Irish Whiskey, Canadian Whiskey, etc. But we Americans have a special name for our corn-based whiskey (it must be at least 51% corn) and that name is bourbon. Bourbon generally comes from Kentucky although legally, contrary to popular belief, it does not have to; however these days there are very few bourbon-producing distilleries outside of Kentucky. Bourbon must be aged in new charred-wood barrels, White Oak being the wood of choice due to its specific porous-but-not-too-porous properties.

I personally discovered bourbon through a back-door route in the form of Jack Daniel’s while in college. Although Jack fulfills the legal requirements that would render it a bourbon, people in Tennessee decided to get fancy and call their bourbon “Tennessee Whiskey,” to distinguish it from the other brands further perpetuating the myth that bourbon must be made in Kentucky to be called such.

In any case, me and Jack had a good long run. Jack and coke is sweet with a dirty bite to it that I learned to love. However when I realized that my passion for Jack and Coke was leading me to drink liters of Coke on any given night on the town, I switched to Jack and seltzer because c’mon, soda is unhealthy whereas Jack is good for strong bones and muscles. Jack and seltzer is a beverage that really only a Jack lover or a masochist can drink.

Me in my college years discussing the finer points of Tennessee whiskey with a cohort

Me in my college years discussing the finer points of Tennessee whiskey with a cohort

Living in Korea was like the “moving in” stage of this relationship when I discovered, in addition to the hilarity of the words “Jack and Cock” written on more than one menu, the “Jack Daniel’s Set.” This is what bottle service would be like if it didn’t totally blow. A Jack set means that when you and your friends go to a bar, for anywhere from about $60-$70you can get a full bottle of Jack, unlimited Coke, some “dry appetizers” (usually peanuts and perhaps some dried squid), and two to three hot platters to be shared (fries, potato skins, quesadillas, or some such bar food). Glasses and ice bucket are brought out and what you have yourself is a veritable instant party. Those were good times.

One day, however, I was drinking Jack straight and realized that it was time to admit to myself that the stuff GOES DOWN LIKE GASOLINE. After a good run, the time had come to say goodbye. But the question remained, what to drink? Maker’s Mark was the most obvious answer since this bourbon really has all the smoothness that ol’ Jack lacks. (I have to respectfully disagree with the Knob Creek drinkers of the world- it tastes like an only slightly improved Jim Beam to me)  But since most NY bars are dumb, it means shelling out $2-$3 more per drink for this brand which the price per bottle does not really justify. I have settled on Irish Whiskey: Jameson, or Powers if it’s available because I can stomach paying more for these since they truly are so smooth but with a bit of an edge that I enjoy. However, with all the fantastic bourbons these fine United States produce, it’s a shame that most bars feature only Beam, Knob and Makers (and my man Jack! Who as explained above is not a bourbon only because Tennessee decreed it so).

With this in mind, I looked around online at what people were saying about good bourbons and compared it with what good ol’ Warehouse Wines & Spririts had on the shelf and came up with Buffalo Trace for a weekend trip with friends. Wow. This is good stuff. It has a nice vanilla taste without being sweet and leaves a nice aftertaste. It goes down smoothly, dangerously so in fact- in less than a few hours we’d killed the whole bottle. So if you like whiskey and can get down with bourbon, why not try this bad boy? It will make you a BETTER AMERICAN!

(More on Scotch later because I found out some interesting stuff about that stuff too . . . like that it’s made out of babies!)

The K-Taco Truck Phenomenon Grows

25 02 2009
If you're drunk and in LA you may as well eat well!

If you're drunk and in LA you may as well eat well!

I’d actually already heard about this Korean taco truck because I’m obsessed with Korean food. I’m glad the NY Times picked up on this story but at the same time, I can’t help but totally disagree with the opinion they are pushing about K-cuisine:

Korean food has blipped on the radar of culinary trend watchers before, but it never seems to gain momentum. In part, Mr. Benson said: “It is because there is a misconception about Korean food. Japanese food is high protein, low in fat and is this very clean cuisine, where Korean food has reputation as being not healthy. So it has not taken off like it should, but I think it is going to.

Jennifer Steinhauer, the writer of this piece needs to get her mind right. Korean food is an up-and-coming cuisine. It is gaining momentum rather than being “so a few minutes ago” as she’s implying. K food is healthy and flavorful. I think its strength is the way that flavors are balanced: spicy and mild like kimchi and tofu or rich and crisp like meat and lettuce. I expect to see it taking off even more in the next few years.

I do love hearing about phenomena such as the taco truck. Living in New York we know the “melting pot” metaphor is a big lie. It’s more of a “stir fry” in that we pick up on each other’s flavors: we all got the same New York-y sauce going on, but most people stick in their carrot or pepper-like-ness. Also, “fusion” food is so terribly hit or miss as anyone who has had Shrimp Parmesan can attest. However, once in a while cultures come together and just knock it out of the park. What better place than LA for Korean & Mexican cuisine to come together & make sweet love?

Nero D’Avola: saving you dollaz…Deliciously!

23 02 2009

Sicily, the region of Italy that brought us the mob and square pizza gives us even more reasons for gratitude in the form of the lovely wine variety Nero D’Avola. I think I’ve made clear in this blog that I’m always looking to enjoy the finer things NYC has to offer, such as a nice glass of wine after work, at third world prices, because I believe you can come damn close! Some wine varieties can be delicious at low price points. Others? Not so much. A lot of people’s go to cheapos: shiraz, malbec, are often borderline undrinkable to me! I find you have to go upwards of $12 at discount wine stores (think $20 at your average store) to get something that doesn’t taste like it was made in a prison inmate’s toilet out of Nyquil and Koolaid. Not so with Nero D’Avola.

Where the magic happens

Where the magic happens

While many cheap wines punch you in the face with a burst of crappy fruit (think Yellowtail) Nero D’Avola has a big flavor without being sickly sweet. It has a fruitiness that doesn’t overstay its welcome on the palate and stands up to acidic and mildly spicy foods. I get a good one at Trader Joe’s for $4! I wasn’t able to find it online but next time I buy it I’ll make a note of the name. Unlike Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, Nero D’Avola is not as invitingly cheap when it actually graces wine lists at restaurants. I don’t know why that is except that perhaps it hasn’t quite taken off in popularity and is priced for scarcity. Lame. But we’re still talking on the lower end of the price spectrum.

In other ROM news, this month brings us to Sri Lankan cuisine! While I’ve had a variety of South East Asian cuisines, this one has eluded me until now. I also still have to catch up with our December & January restaurants as well: Agnati in Queens and Thomas Beisl in Brooklyn. Stay tuned.