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The Yelp Question

February 1, 2011

16 – The Notorious B.I.G. – Unbelievable – Ready to Die by SWVoltron

For a lot of people, the introduction of Yelp into the social-network foray was a welcomed addition to an already quite-deep roster of sites. But is it good? And pushing that question a step further…does Yelp actually work?

My answers to both of these questions is “no,” and I’m quite certain most chefs, critics, and restaurateurs would agree as well. Obviously, Yelp works successfully in terms of its essential function as a web destination for people to share opinions and ideas, mostly about food. However, there is one massive problem Yelp overlooked, and I really don’t know if they can fix it.

The issue?

It’s glaringly obvious to me (and some other people I’ve spoken to on the subject). The problem is, how the hell do I trust what I’m reading? How do I know that the person whose post I’m checking out has the slightest clue as to what they’re talking about? Explicitly in relation to food, how do I know they have a good palate? Has this person ever even worked in a restaurant? Do they ever cook on their own, or do they just go out to eat all the time? (Sorry, but not actually being able to cook renders your opinions on taste somewhat moot and ill-informed.) Are they a restaurant “scenester,” or do they actually care about food, cooking, and good taste? The problem is credibility…and frankly, unless it is someone you know personally, there is no way to determine if credence should be lent to what you’re reading. Basically, if you don’t know the person who wrote what you’re reading, every sentence should be taken with multiple grains of your favorite coarse, Kosher seasoning.

I’m not meaning for this to be some crusade against Yelp that will ultimately lead to the demise of the site. I know I could never bring that about, I don’t care to, and because of the way social networks are valued (in economic terms) it will likely never happen; but this is something, as I mentioned before, I’ve mused over a few times and spoken to a number of folks about.

I wrote in a previous post about how I spent a few months working for a restaurant start-up here in New York. My day-to-day was going into restaurants, talking to people who work there and getting info about the place. The most common question people asked me about our site was, “How does it compare to Yelp?” or “Is it like Yelp?” (In case you were wondering, it was/is not like Yelp at all). The biggest problem restaurant people have with Yelp is that it allows users to create ratings for their establishment. This is, without a doubt, somewhat of a serious issue for a restaurant owner, and again calls to mind the problem of credibility. How do you or I know that Michael S. from Orlando knows what he’s talking about in his crushing, one-star “review” of Motorino, an establishment that is in the “Final Four,” nationally, for best pizza in America. At the end of the day, this is someone else’s livelihood…it’s their American dream, and it’s horribly unfair that the ill-informed ideas of Joe Schmo could conceivably tank a restaurant.

A marg pie from Motorino...down the street from my apt, and my favorite pizza in Manhattan. (seriouseats.com)

I’m sure there are those who will argue about the nature of “the market” and make claims such as “that’s capitalism,” and I’m happy to disagree. That is, without a doubt, complete bullshit, because, as I pointed out, there’s no way to tell if Michael from Orlando actually has one iota of a clue about pizza, and going further, Neapolitan-style pies. What if Michael is just wrong?

Two concrete examples of what I’m talking about…yesterday, someone posted a thread on Yelp (which was picked up and later posted on Eater) pondering the question of why one would eat food from a street cart or food truck. Automatically, in just thinking this thought, the user, at least in my view, has completely obliterated their cred (not to mention they sound incredibly snobbish). Why do you eat street food? I think Jimmy Beard just rolled over in his grave…street food, first of all, is some of the cheapest and most-delicious eats one can find in New York City. There are a plethora of food trucks offering gourmet, restaurant-quality food at far cheaper prices, and in addition to that, the wait for your meal is generally minimal. For anyone who is slightly in-the-know, this is a very laughable query. Subsequently, all reviews and opinions written by this particular Yelper should be ignored…but don’t listen to me if you don’t want to.

Wafels & Dinges; a current favorite on my food truck circuit. On weekends, they park down the street from Marjorie's apartment...until 1:00 AM. (flickr.com)

Second example…in perusing the comments about Momofuku Ssam Bar the other day, I came across one pegged with two stars by Caroline L. of New York, NY. Caroline had a bad experience at Ssam Bar with her girlfriends while out on their annual holiday dinner. I don’t know Caroline and have no interest in ever meeting her, but she did make a peculiar comment in her review that leads me to question the rest of it. She and her friends ordered a short rib sandwich at Ssam Bar (David Chang’s riff on the McRib) and they were not pleased. This lead Caroline to draw the conclusion that if one cannot make a short rib sammy, one “shouldn’t be operating a restaurant.” Really, Caroline? Who do these people think they are!?!? Caroline’s claim is, definitively, outrageous.

The rib sandwich in question by Caroline...obviously, not her exact sandwich, but how could this be bad? (flickr.com)

Maybe this is a pointless post because I don’t have and can’t offer a solution, but I wanted to get this out there for philosophical purposes if nothing else. I think it’s an important thing to consider (if you’re at all into food or use Yelp), and I also think it raises a lot of questions about social networks in general. One of the more serious issues social networks confront is that of user credibility (if you don’t believe me, watch the movie Catfish) in regard to their opinions, and without implementing some sort of Wonderlic-type test, I really can’t see a way around that. I guess this boils down to an issue of intelligence and “food-IQ,” of which, all men are not created equal.

I’d love to hear what readers have to think about this, so please, share your thoughts and let’s get some discussion going!

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Got Milk…Bar?

October 7, 2010

The whitest boy alive – island by MeninoJoãozinho

No significance with the music this time. Just play, salivate, and enjoy.

At the beginning of September I moved into a new apartment down in the East Village with two buddies from college. Well, it just so happens, by no intended consequence whatsoever, that Momofuku Milk Bar (and Ssam Bar, though I have yet to eat there) is right, RIGHT around the corner. It’s not even a three minute walk; if you go fast enough, it may not even be a two minute walk. I don’t even have to cross a street to get there. It’s on the same block as my apartment building.

Before moving into the neighborhood I was already well-versed in all things Milk Bar. Marjorie and I had been quite a few times before, and when I was writing for a website in the area last Spring I used to frequently pop in for a pork bun dinner. Since moving into my new apartment almost three weeks ago I’ve been to Milk Bar five times. This, dear friends, is both a good and bad thing; good in that Milk Bar is un-imaginably delicious, and bad, mostly based on the fact that eating lots of cookies, cereal milk, cake truffles, and bagel bombs is no way to manage some semblance of “health.” However, when it comes to Momofuku, and Milk Bar in particular, or anything associated with David Chang and Christina Tosi for that matter, I just don’t give a shit. All their creations are the embodiment of evil genius and so delicious that to eat just one bite of something is, in my view, truly impossible.

So Milk Bar…what’s good there? I’m so glad you asked, because I’m definitely not any sort of “newb” when it comes to navigating their long list of sweet options. I may get some shit from people for this fat kid post, but I can’t help it; I love sweets, and I love Milk Bar.

Okay, so in the spirit of Marie Antoinette, great stateswoman and embodiment of “salt of the earth” that she was, let’s begin with CAKE.

CHOCOLATE MALT CAKE
This is my least favorite of all the Milk Bar offerings I’ve tried, so I figured we would dispense with the unpleasantness right away. I’ve never liked malt, but wanted to give Tosi’s use of it a try…I’m still not converted. I don’t know what it is about malt, but it’s just not for me. Overall, the cake was exceedingly moist, and the charred marshmallow topping, well, no one’s going to argue with that. If you’re a fan of Whoppers (my least favorite candy) or see yourself playing in a sandbox full of malt powder in your sick, twisted dreams, this cake is for you.

Chocolate Malt Cake (bonappetit.com)

CHOCOLATE CHIP CAKE
Along with individual slices of cake, the Chocolate Chip Cake is no longer available, however, it lives on in my heart and mind as one of the better cake experiences I have ever had. I was lucky enough to get a taste before Milk Bar stopped selling cake slices (slices were replaced with mini “cake truffles” a few months ago), and it was fantastic. You would probably never guess this on your own, but passion fruit and chocolate is an amazing combination. This one was a real winner, and I lament it’s passing every time I stop in. Please, Ms. Tosi and/or Mr. Chang, bring back the chocolate chip cake!

Chocolate Chip Cake (yummyinthetummyblog @ flickr.com)

BANANA CAKE
Bananas in desserts…I absolutely love it. I’m not sure why, but it always seems to be that chefs get very creative with ye olde ‘naner. Ever since Richard Blais made a “banana scallop” on Top Chef a few seasons ago I’ve been sucked in by the “banana option” on any desert menu. The Milk Bar banana cake is an exercise in the classic pairing of bananas, nuts, and chocolate. Banana cream, hazelnut crunch, and gianduja fudge are the players, all nestled between layers of moist, nutty banana cake. Milk, in some form, is an absolute necessity with this and to undertake this task without a dairy-based accompaniment is not recommended.

Banana Cake, food porn style (amycao.tumblr.com)

Richard Blais' banana scallop with bacon ice cream. (recipes-stage.bravotv.com)

APPLE PIE CAKE TRUFFLE
This is the newest addition to the Milk Bar cake arsenal, and I just had one yesterday. Like I said, they don’t do slices of cake anymore, but they do make them into these truffles, which are quite a bit like donut holes. The apple pie cake is a cheesecake filling mixed with apple compote and pie crumbs. The truffle version is a ball of the cake wrapped into a thin layer of pie dough. This is a real winner and not to be missed. It’s unfortunate the apple season doesn’t last the whole year, because this thing is really, really fantastic (I also love apple pie, so I’m possibly a little bias.)

Apple Pie Cake Truffles (blogs.villagevoice.com)

Onward to the world of PIE.

CRACK PIE
Tyrone Biggums would be pissed if he spent his money on this, because there ain’t no crack in this pie. Crack pie is another Momofave, and with good reason. The crust is toasted oats with, as Milk Bar describes, “gooey butter filling.” See what I mean by evil genius? Who wouldn’t want to eat something filled with “gooey butter?” Apparently, this pie is also not that hard to make. The recipe has been featured in Bon Appetit and a number of newspapers in the Tri-State area. Crack pie = must-try.

Ain't nothin' wack 'bout this crack. (foodforfel.com)

CANDY BAR PIE
Another big winner amongst the many to be found on 13th Street. Candy bar pie starts with a chocolate crust, and then is topped off with layers of caramel and peanut butter nougat. Pretzels are placed on top of all that, and then the whole thing is covered in more chocolate. I mean, there’s really no complaint to level here either. It’s just good…really good.

Candy Bar Pie (thewanderingeater.com)

CINNAMON BUN PIE
This is why Milk Bar is such a great place. They take something like a cinnamon roll, which doesn’t need to be made any sweeter or more unhealthy, and then turn it into a pie…and it works. The “crust” on this one is cinnamon bun dough topped with a cheesecake filling, brown butter, and oats. Throw this baby in the micro for ten seconds once you get home, saddle up with an ice-cold glass of milk, and let the carnage begin.

Cinnamon Bun Pie (newyork.seriouseats.com)

Other pies offered by Milk Bar include Grasshopper Pie (graham cracker crust, mint cheesecake and brownie filling), as well as the Franken Pie, which is two slices of every pie they sell made into a whole pie. Mary Shelley would be proud.

COOKIES, to me, are sort of the bedrock of American baking. The first thing I ever learned to make were Nestlé Toll House cookies, so maybe that’s why I love the ones from Milk Bar so much. These are, in my view and without any sort of challenger, the best, BEST, cookies in all of New York City.

COMPOST COOKIE
I’m actually not even sure if I’m allowed to use that term because it’s trademarked by Momofuku (as is the pie named after a popular 1980s street drug) so if someone reads this and wants me to take it down, please let me know and I will do so. I’m not trying to piss anyone off…but back to composting…this cookie, like so many of the other Milk Bar baked goods, is kind of hard to wrap your head around on the first few tries, but nonetheless, it’s quite possibly THE single greatest thing they sell. This cookie is chock full of pretzels, potato chips, coffee grounds, oats, butterscotch, and chocolate chips…if you’re immediate response is “that sounds gross,” or “that’s too much stuff,” than you a.) have obviously never had one, and b.) have obviously never had one. In the words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

The Compost (newyork.seriouseats.com)

BLUEBERRY AND CREAM COOKIE
I’ve only had this cookie once, but I’m a pretty big fan. I really, really enjoy a good blueberry muffin with a glass of milk, and this cookie replicates that experience. The cookie tastes just like a muffin (which is sort of weirdly awesome) and the “milk crumbs” go seamlessly well with everything else. All in all, a really good cookie, but not as earth-shattering as some of the other Milk Bar desserts.

Blueberry and Cream Cookie (cookiemadness.net)

CORNFLAKE – MARSHMALLOW – CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE
I think of this cookie as being cousin to the compost variety but more in-line with a traditional chocolate chip. The marshmallow melts away into the cookie adding a lot of moisture, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get one with bits of perfectly caramelized marshmallow along the cookie’s edge. The cornflakes are also caramelized in this one, and the chocolate rounds everything out with just a touch of bitterness. I also just thought of an idea…instead of using graham crackers the next time you make s’mores, use these cookies. You’re welcome, Momofukers.

Cornflake - Marshmallow - Chocolate Chip Cookie (dessertbuzz.com)

PEANUT BUTTER COOKIE
This one was added in the last few months, and it, like the compost, is a masterpiece and probably the single greatest peanut butter cookie I have ever eaten. There’s really not a whole lot to it. Peanut butter and peanut brittle are combined with cookie dough and the rest is sort of history. The crunchy, salty-sweet bits of peanut brittle are what separate this peanut butter cookie from all others. If you’re in the mood for some version of a PB&J, stop in to Milk Bar and reward yourself with this cookie and one of their Strawberry Milks. I may or may not have made this discovery yesterday afternoon…

Peanut Butter Cookie (highlowfooddrink.com)

Ok…so we’re almost done now. I just mentioned their Strawberry Milk, so let’s discuss Milk Bar’s namesake beverage; their three different varieties of flavored MILK.

STRAWBERRY MILK
Say what you will about flavored milk, and strawberry in particular, but this is one of my favorite beverages in the history of bovine-related drinks. Tristar strawberries are pureed and combined with the delicious organic milk Momofuku gets from Milk Thistle Farm in Ghent, NY, and the result is delicious. You can really taste the strawberry and the milk together and separately (I know that somehow this makes sense), so it’s a match made in heaven for my mouth.

COFFEE MILK
I tried this for the first time a few weeks ago with a bagel bomb (to be discussed shortly), and despite being someone who is not a big fan of coffee and never really drinks it, I’m a huge fan of this beverage. It’s essentially a very milk-ified version of coffee with cream and sugar (the only way coffee should be consumed in Tony Bourdain’s view), and for that I was appreciative. If nothing else, coffee milk goes really well with a bagel bomb.

CEREAL MILK
Again, another perfect example of Tosi’s evil genius at play, and along with the compost cook, (at this point I’ve become fearful of repeating the entire word), possibly the most famous item Milk Bar sells. Now, I dunno about you, but when I was little, after a bowl of cereal in the morning, I always, without fail, always drank the leftover milk. It became incredibly sweet from the cereal, possibly turned to chocolate (Count Chocula, Coco Crispies, etc), or went multi-colored to look and taste like liquid cotton candy (Froot Loops [love that spelling lesson from the good folks at Kellogg’s]). Milk Bar uses corn flakes and adds sugar to the milk, so the flavor is slightly different than that fresh-out-of-the-box-processed-corn-and-sugar taste many current twenty-something’s grew to know and love as children of the 1980s. Anyway, it’s cereal milk…it’s self-explanatory, and you know you love it.

BUNS, BREADS, BAGEL BOMBS, SOFT SERVE, AND MORE
In addition to all the wonderful treats I listed above (there are more kinds of cookies, cakes, and pies than I mentioned) Milk Bar also sells pork buns, breads, croissants, soft serve, and the wonderful creation that is the bagel bomb. I’ve never had one of their breads (varieties include banana green curry and apple cheddar cornbread) or croissants (kimchi and blue cheese; turkey, swiss and mustard; rye and pastrami; black pepper, ham, and cheddar; black sesame, Tristar jam, and cream cheese) but I will at some point. Their soft serves are always changing (current flavors include cereal milk, pumpkin cheesecake, dulce de leche, and black sesame; past flavors are, to name a few, raspberry lemonade, red velvet cake, potato chip, ants on a log, “purple drink,” and pickled cherry), but I did manage to have a milkshake made with cereal milk and red velvet cake once. It was good, but the red velvet totally overwhelmed the cereal milk. In closing, the beloved bagel bomb and famous pork buns.

BUNS AND BOMBS
The Momofuku pork bun is, to say the least, consistently perfect. They source their pig from some of the finest providers in the entire country and region, and the results are evidence of that. Roasted pork belly is combined with quick-pickled cucumbers (which I have made a few times courtesy of the Momofuku Cookbook Marjorie gave me) and hoisin then wedged into a Chinese bun. The results are incredibly enjoyable, and a squirt of Sriacha livens things up even more. They really are some variation of “perfect.” One ought to wash it down with a Porkslap Pale Ale from Butternuts Beer and Ale of upstate NY, but that’s just my opinion.

Pork Buns (snackish.com)

The bagel bomb is, well, there is a remarkable amount of truth in the name because it really is a belly bomb. Milk Bar takes a bagel without a whole in it (so I guess it really isn’t much of a bagel at all) and pumps it full of bacon-scallion cream cheese. I quite enjoyed this creation, but it was also very, very rich. For all their bacon needs, the Momofuku restaurant group always turns to Allan Benton of Madisonville, TN. Benton’s bacon is delicious, but it is also some of the richest, smokiest pork product I’ve ever had so it takes, at least I think, a little bit of getting used to. The bagel bomb though…the cream cheese was rich with bacon (and, I’m guessing, some of the rendered fat) with the scallion taking more of a back seat. The bagel itself was somewhat of a disappointment; it was a little bit dry, but in Momofuku’s defense, Marjorie and I were there in the early afternoon so we weren’t getting their freshest offerings. Overall, a must-try, and I would strongly recommend enjoying yours with a coffee milk.

Bagel Bomb, cross-sectioned. (moosefan68 @ flickr.com)

Alright – I think that’ll do it for now considering how long this post is. I can’t help it though; I’ve eaten a lot of stuff from Milk Bar, and nothing there is bad, so don’t blame me.

Look for two tasting menu reviews coming up soon…Eric Ripert’s exquisite (and near-PERFECTLY rated food by Zagat) Le Bernardin (this was the absolute best meal of my life) and former Le Cirque pastry chef Iacopo Falai’s LES spot, Falai.

Reasonableats.

June 9, 2010

The Black Keys – She’s Long Gone by Toblerone
N.B. – I think for at least the next couple of posts, I’ll continue with The Black Keys as soundtrack. Objections? Oh, wait…doesn’t matter; I won’t be changing my mind regarding the Keys.

Sooo…been quite awhile since my last post.  I started a new job writing for a website back in March, and since then, it’s been kind of a struggle to find the time and motivation to do some work here. However, for the time being, I’m feeling inspired.  Onward into the abyss…

So back in the beginning of April (shit!) I did a post about some of my favorite restaurants in the city where you don’t have to spend loads to eat well and enjoy yourself.  Well, let’s make good on that claim! (However, I’m not going to write about the exact three I said I would previously. I’ll get to all of those…just not right now.)

Grand Sichuan International

To my knowledge, I believe there are five outposts of the Grand Sichuan located throughout the city. There’s one a few blocks from my apartment at 24th and 9th, and Marjorie and I have gone there twice in the last month. (In case you are wondering, Marjorie is my girlfriend. I used to mention her before, but then kind of stopped, but not for any particular reason at all. Lately, she’s really been giving me grief about it and requesting an alias, haha. Well, there it is. She’s eaten with me at every single restaurant I’ve written about).

 

Marjorie after a rough night out.

 

Why all of a sudden? I’ve really put a nice crack in the binding of the Momofuku Cookbook lately (probably gone through the whole thing at least four times) and D. Chang mentions Grand Sichuan on multiple occasions.  After that, I looked up their locations, and found there was one close to me.

 

Interior of Grand Sichuan in Cheslea at 24th and 9th. (chickenfriedeverything.com)

 

The food is really, really good, and the prices are extremely reasonable.  I don’t have pictures of anything we ate because I don’t bring a camera to meals (and neither should you).  However, this is the rundown over our two trips.

The cold spicy Sichuan noodles were, I thought, just cosi-cosi.  Marjorie enjoyed them because she’s a fanatic for sesame noodles, whereas I’m lukewarm on the subject. I felt like these were just a slightly spicier version of sesame noods, while I was expecting something new and different. They weren’t bad, but weren’t necessarily great either. Dan Dan noodles on the other hand are pretty much just about my favorite thing to eat right now…proverbially, “the shit.” Thick chinese noodles (about the diameter of bucatini, except not hollow) covered in über-spicy broth/sauce and topped off with crispy bits of fried pork then finished with Chinese spinach. They’re really, really, really good…really good! Chicken with spicy green peper was…really, really f’n spicy, but also delicious. If you like the burn of chilis, you will love that dish. Dried string beans with ground pork were, for such a simple dish, amazing. A whole plate of these were consumed at our table, and mind you, the portions are more than generous. Shredded chicken with garlic sauce was tasty, but not memorable; fried pork dumplings were a let-down, and a little bit funky.

If there’s a Grand Sichuan near you, it would behoove you not to consider any alternative the next time you’re in the mood for the fiery delights of Sichuan Province (or any kind of Chinese food). 謝謝!!

The Spotted Pig

Anyone who knows anything worth knowing about food knows about The Spotted Pig, April Bloomfield, Mario Batali, and Ken Friedman’s West Villahhge gastropub.  It’s nothing new to the city (neither is Grand Sichuan) but I’m just coming up on a year in NYC, so it’s something worth writing about in my eyes. It’s a pretty hip spot, and the food, I think, is awesome.

 

The interior at The Spotted Pig. One day, I'd like to have a place in my home that looks like the inside of this restaurant. (flickr.com)

 

Marjorie and I rolled in here on a snow day, from work for her and school for me, and had a really, really awesome late afternoon lunch. Things kicked off with their pickle plate; cornichons, roasted red pepper, pearl red onions, I think some radish, and I don’t remember what other veg. Everything was pickled, deliciously crisp, and pleasantly briny. The pickled, roasted (I think) red pepper was especially enjoyable. For mains, I went for the burger; a hunk of delicious Pat LaFrieda special blend beef made especially for the Pig that is perfectly, perfectly cooked and smothered in roquefort.  On the side, the honest to God best shoestring fries I have ever had in my entire life. They’re tossed with fresh rosemary and sea salt right out of the fat…I ate every single one of them on my plate. I couldn’t stop eating them. The burger was nothing short of, for the day, time, and weather, absolutely perfect…burger-vana…I would do unspeakable things for one right now. Marjorie, being the intelligible young lady she is, went for the grilled cheese with onion marmalade and mustard. It was the single best bite of grilled cheese I’ve ever had…and that was all she shared. I think Marjorie enjoyed it. The bread was crisp and buttery, and the cheese was in the right state of gooooooo.

 

On a long list, The Spotted Big's burger is up there with the best of all my experiences involving ground animal meats. (unbreaded.com)

 

It goes without saying that The Spotted Pig is just plain worth it. We made it there with about a foot or so of snow on the ground, and then waited for roughly 40 minutes. It was worth every minute of walking and waiting.

Co.

 

Exterior of Co. (seriouseats.com)

 

Co., short for Company, is another Chelsea fave of mine, and the brainchild of Sullivan Street Bakery’s Jim Lahey; in my opinion, the preeminent bread guy in NYC right now. (Aside – if you shop at a Whole Foods in the city, look for Sullivan Street’s bread; in particular, the stirato, which is essentially an Italian riff on a baguette.) Co. is an upscale pizzeria featuring salads, some Greenmarket offerings, and a fantastic selection of beers. At Co. instead of ordering a pitcher, you get a growler (see below).

 

A growler, and two pours that would leave most beer drinkers dumbfounded. (barrelny.com)

 

I spent the evening sipping on Six Point Sweet Action courtesy of Six Point Craft Ales in Red Hook, BK. It has quickly become one of my favorite local brews to go for when I have the chance. It’s got a nice hoppiness, isn’t too bitter, and is, truly, just a tiny, tiny bit sweet. To start, we went with bread (I believe Sullivan Street’s pugliese) and fresh ramp pesto. It was delicious because ramps are delicious. Everyone should eat them.

 

Jim Lahey, buddha of bread, in the kitchen at Co. (seriouseats.com)

 

From bread and pesto, we moved on to pies and ordered two. First, the margherita. Marjorie is never a big fan of this move, but when I eat at a pizza place for the first time, I always try to get the plainest pie I can. Any respectable pizza spot in NY serves a margherita, so it’s a good benchmark for comparison; Co. is no exception, and theirs was exceptional.  Next, we moved on to the meatball pie; veal meatballs, gaeta olives, carmelized onions, mozz, rosemary, aged pecorino.  The meatballs were top-notch (I love meatballs), and played well with everything else, except the olives.  Olives on pizza are, I think, really tough to pull off because they have such an intense and concentrated saltiness.  At least on this particular occasion, Co. fell just short of really good with this one.

 

Margherita at Co. (karmafreecooking.com)

 

For anyone who really enjoys pizza, Co. is a must-try.  Lahey’s wizardry and grasp of baking is too good not to at least give it a shot.  In my view, even if the toppings miss the mark on occasion, it’s some of the best crust I’ve ever had in my life…and I don’t normally eat mine.

Put out the SocialVibe!

April 5, 2010

I just wanted to remind everyone about the widget I added a few months ago that donates to the United Nations World Food Programme.  It’s called SocialVibe and it’s directly to the right of this post in the column with the tag cloud, archives, search field, etc.  PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE take a couple of extra minutes to check it out!  MFAB doesn’t get crazy traffic, but I still think we could do better than we’ve managed.  So far, eight meals have been donated on MFABs behalf.  I know I contributed to seven of them, so a HUGE THANK YOU to whoever the one other person is who took the time with the widget!  Sincerely, thank you!  You made a difference to someone for a brief moment in their life!

Doesn’t that feel good???

Also, New Yorkers, the recent change in weather/season means one thing…RAMPS! (And of course, beautiful weather.)  Delicious on both counts!  Head to the Greenmarket (I prefer Union Square, open on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) and pick some up!  For all your Greenmarket needs in the future, check out Grow NYCs website at http://www.cenyc.com

Why Does my Oxidant have to be SO Anti???

April 5, 2010

Here’s the second of three short critiques we’ve been assigned for “The Science of Food Farming and Flavors.”

The 2000s ushered in a whole new theater of eating and thinking about food.  With this has also come the mainstream introduction and promotion of lots and lots of new food products, additives, and nutrients.  However, there’s actually not really anything new about them besides the fact that a lot of these things (such as ginseng, ginko bilboa, taurine, etc) are now readily available to us in a lot of the products we, as Americans, consume on a regular basis.

Antioxidants, along with the aforementioned supplements and foodstuffs, are just another example of a molecule being thrust into the limelight in the last five to ten years.  For me, I had never really heard much about antioxidants until green tea became such a popular, mainstream beverage.  I enjoy tea and prefer it to coffee quite a bit, so once green tea was everywhere I started drinking the stuff close to a daily basis, especially at lunch time.  I found it was a great way to make it through my afternoons.  But we’re not here to talk about green tea; we’re here to discuss antioxidants, which green tea happens to be loaded with.

 

Green tea growing on a hillside. (quickblogcast.com)

 

Antioxidants are molecules whose primary function is to prevent the oxidation of other molecules within the human body.  Oxidation is a chemical reaction occurring within the body that results in the transfer of electrons from some substance to an oxidizing agent.  This oxidation reaction can lead to the release and production of molecules called free radicals, whose primary function is to set off chain reactions in the blood that damage cells.  This is not a good thing, and antioxidants work in opposition to this phenomena.

Once free radicals are present, antioxidants go to work.  “Antioxidants terminate these chain reactions by removing free radical intermediates, and inhibit other oxidation reactions by being oxidized themselves.  As a result, antioxidants are often reducing agents such as thiols, ascorbic acid, or polyphenols” (“Antioxidant”).  Because science believes that antioxidants may play some sort of roll in staving off diseases resulting from oxidation in the blood, antioxidants are used widely as ingredients in dietary supplements.  Two of the diseases they are believed to protect against are certain forms of cancer as well as coronary heart disease.

Originally, antioxidants were useful mostly in industrial processes to combat “…metal corrosion, the vulcanization of rubber, and the polymerization of fuels in the fouling of internal combustion engines” (“Antioxidant”).  A lot of early research involving antioxidants really had little to do with human biology.  Initially, the scientific focus was on determining their role in the oxidation of unsaturated fats, which can lead to whatever fat (meat) becoming rancid.  It wasn’t until the discovery of vitamins A, C, and E that antioxidants were able to figure prominently into human biology.  “Research into how vitamin E prevents the process of lipid peroxidation led to the identification of antioxidants as reducing agents that prevent oxidative reactions, often by scavenging reactive oxygen species before they can damage cells” (“Antioxidant”).

 

A strawbery field; my favorite source of antioxidants! (Not the field, the berries.) (treehugger.com)

 

Depending on who you ask, the jury may still be out as to whether or not there is considerable scientific basis for the benefit of antioxidants.  Here, I think, you have to consider the uses, or possible uses, of antioxidants.  The human “brain is uniquely vulnerable to oxidative injury due to its high metabolic rate and elevated levels of polyunsaturated lipids, the target of lipid peroxidation” (“Antioxidant”).  Because of this, antioxidants are often used in the treatment of various brain injuries such as reperfusion injury and brain trauma.  There is also a lot of investigation occurring in order to determine what, if any, effect that antioxidants have on people experiencing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and also, hearing loss on account of extended exposure to loud noise.

Lots of fruits and vegetables protect against heart disease and types of cancer, and these fruits and vegetables also subsequently have lots of antioxidants in them.  Research was conducted to see if the antioxidant molecules in these fruits and vegetables had anything to do with the reduction in the risk of disease, and the results were inconclusive .  There has been no clear, distinguishable effect on the diseases courtesy of antioxidants, so it is believed their positive effects may come from other substances in the fruits and vegetables.  There have been lots of other tests done involving antioxidants and how they effect certain parts of human biology relating to disease and health, and they too have produced rather inconclusive results.

Science is one of those fields that is constantly changing and evolving, and that also means certain things that at a time were thought to be true might not be anymore.  You could say this about antioxidants and not necessarily be right or wrong because so much of the science is now somewhat inconclusive in regard to what benefits these molecules may provide.  Because of this, I don’t feel that I can offer some sort of ringing endorsement to immediately run out to the store and buy all the berries and green tea your little paws can carry.  However, antioxidants, like pretty much everything else, are okay in moderation, and because no one really knows for sure, possibly good for you in moderation as well.  I think that is the most important thing to realize or take away from this here.  It recalls to mind Michael Pollan’s simplistically beautiful philosophy concerning food and eating in the post-modern age, “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”  Apply that mantra with, possibly, a side of your favorite antioxidant, and you’ve got, I think, a pretty good recipe for human biological success and longevity.

 

Dr. Pollan, I still haven't gotten a response to my email, haha! C'moooooon man!

 


On the Cheap

April 2, 2010

So for the longest time I’ve wanted to add music here. For those of you that know me, you’re aware that I’m somewhat of a music junkie, and also quite opinionated as to quality, haha. My friend, who will be named here as Ron Mexico, kind of coined a three sentence phrase describing how I speak to other people regarding the matter; “Your music sucks. Your food sucks. You suck?” (“?” appearing here because I’m unsure as to whether or not the third phrase is correct. Ron, thoughts?) Anyways, back to my point…now they’ll be music at the top of every post. Push play and enjoy!

Blakroc – Dollaz & Sense by TheBitchFactory
Onward with some new shiz.

I think recently I’ve decided that the best thing, hands down, about the restaurant scene in New York City is that you don’t have to break the bank to have an excellent meal. Lately, I’ve been gorging myself at a lot of restaurants where it is essentially their mantra to serve food of the most superior quality, while still maintaining a very reasonable price point.  Here are a few of my favorites.

 

dell'anima: Where soulful magic happens. (gastrogirls.wordpress.com)

 

dell’anima – I’m still kind of on the fence, but this place is close to being flat-out, my favorite restaurant in Manhattan. It’s about the size of a larger matchbox, and they turn out some of THE best neo-Italian food I’ve ever had. They make all or most of their pastas fresh in house (except risotto, of course. Growing rice in NYC could prove to be slightly problematic). Their menu also changes daily depending upon what’s good. Gabe Thompson runs the kitchen…and this guy really RUNS the kitchen. Remember, I said this place was tiny; and every time I’ve gone there it’s been a madhouse. Their kitchen staff work their asses off, so if you get a chance when you’re there, try and sit at the counter

 

dell'anima carbonara's centerfold from Playboy's 40th Anniversary Issue. Kelly Ben-who?

 

Their entrees are not, by any stretch, inexpensive. For this reason, I’ve never had one. I guess it’s kind of odd this place might be my favorite restaurant and I’ve never actually ordered an entrée there. Whatever…their pastas and appetizers (and I’m sure entrées as well) are a prime example of how, exactly, to cook food and make it taste really, really, really damn good. Their bruschette have been top-notch every time. You can get three flavors for $10 that come with pieces of perfectly charred bread. The avocado is so good it’s just silly. They also offer a few affetatti…their chicken liver and fig creation is bonkers.  It’s just great; that’s really all I can say.  I also think I had the best pasta I’ve ever had there. It was squid ink noodles with sea urchin, chilis, mint, olive oil; my jowls are vibrating. Their risotto with housemade sausage, salumi, and Pecorino Romano is so good that I couldn’t stop eating mine even though I already had a full tank…kind of like at the gas station where you may give the pump an extra squeeze after it pops even though you know it’s really not that great an idea? Also, their carbonara is a fantastic riff (they use speck, not pancetta) on an old Roman classic.

dell’anima certainly is “of the soul.”  Eat here…the next time you pay for someone to cook for you. SERIOUSLY.

 

Interior of The Smith. All the fixtures and lighting are made from old pipes. (lucosgroup.com)

 

The Smith – Went here last weekend, and for those of us who watch “How to Make it in America” on HBO, you may remember the show referencing the restaurant in last week’s episode, and then again, you very well may not. Anyways, I went here last Saturday night for a late dinner around 10:00; absolutely packed with young people sipping on Blue Point Toasted Lager (thankyousirmayIhaveanother) and specialty house drinks. NY Mag nailed it in calling this place a “sort-of faux Odeon.”  It is exactly that, except I’d say the food is slightly more American, and maybe even updated. (But better?  Not likely.  The Odeon has quickly become another favorite of mine, and their execution is consistently well above average.  Next time your parents are visiting from out of town, take them to The Odeon.)  The crowd is also younger. So what’s good at The Smith?

 

The Smith Burger with "the works:" disappointed. (seriouseats.com)

 

Crawfish hush puppies with Old Bay aioli. Let’s dissect this sentence; crawfish – delicious, inexpensive jewel the Gulf region. There’s a HUGE chunk in the middle of each pup. Next word, hush puppies – if you don’t know what hush puppies are…I mean, c’mon. You have to know. I’m not explaining. Old Bay aioli – good with more than just crabcakes and football! They also make, what is supposed to be, a pretty good burger. Mine was just, I dunno, kind of odd. It had this overwhelming earthiness going on, an almost overpowering richness to it. I could only eat half. The burger, I believe, was $15 and the silenced young dogs were around $11 or $12. Main courses run from $17 to $23, so the prices are pretty reasonable when stacked up against other places.

 

Interior of Wilfie & Nell (thelmagazine.com)

 

Wilfie & Nell – Had breakfast here last weekend and it was the best part of waking up without any Folgers in sight. Wilfie & Nell is a bar first. Seating is sparse with most of it being taken up by large tables that are communal. No reservations, no waiting list…their website says they want people to come in and squeeze wherever there is room. One could say that it is quite bohemian.

 

Berkshire pork sliders with McClure's pickles and wholegrain mustard. Sounds like something I'd be interested in trying. (flickr.com)

 

Their menu is pretty small, but they try to focus on locally sourcing their ingredients, so that’s pretty cool. Nothing on the menu costs more than $12, and the fare is heavily influenced by the British Isles.  I also read that Joaquin Baca, former sidekick to David Chang, and now of The Brooklyn Star (since closed due to a fire and re-opening as a pizzeria with a different name) in Williamsburg, consulted on the menu and demoed all the dishes for the kitchen.  Well, this paid off, because the corned beef hash I had last weekend was the cats pajamas AND the bees knees all at the same time.  The hash consisted of onions, grape tomatoes, potatoes, maybe a pepper or two, and of course, corned beef.  It was topped with two poached eggs and came with a side of pickled cabbage; “Oh yes, it will be mine.” (Name the quote if you can). It was so good it hurts me to think about now.  The eggs were poached with skill, and the yolks ran all over the place.  I love eggs…I think they’re a very sexy food.  They also make AWESOME drinks.  They do a bloody mary with McClure’s pickle juice in the mix and a few beer cocktails.  I had one that was Lagunitas IPA with grapefruit juice and ginger syrup…fantastic.  The other is Lagunita’s IPA with grapefruit and Campari…sounds like another winner I think.

Well, I wanted to talk about a couple more places, but I guess things got a little long-winded ooorrrrrr I got excited. These are some of my favorite among THE favorites…the creme de la creme.  I’ll do this again soon and write about hmm…let’s see…Torrisi Italian Specialties, Spotted Pig, and Company.

Enjoy your hams this weekend!

Could I do without these things?

March 9, 2010

Just earlier as I was eating dinner, I started to wonder about foods that are pretty much worthless aside from the fact that they take up space in your stomach.  So my idea here is to begin a list of foods that we could possibly do without and a brief reason saying why.  Now look, I’m not some sort of crazy absolutist who believes that there is only one “right way to eat,” or that people who buy whatever foods listed are “bad people;” that’s ridiculous. This is nothing more than the creation of a hypothetical situation in which the foods to be named do not exist.

The other side to this coin is that I want to get YOU involved.  Yes, you…sitting there and reading this.  I know you’re there…so tell me what you think.  I want to hear from everyone who reads this about what foods YOU think we could potentially do without.  I’ll update the list as I’m expecting to be absolutely BURIED with responses, haha.

Alright, so let’s get started:

1.) White Bread

This one, I tend to think, is far and away the least complicated of all.  Why?  Wheeeaat bread.  Just get it.  Go to the store, and instead of buying white, just buy wheat.  It doesn’t even have to be whole wheat bread. Wheat bread…just do it!

I love this picture. It reminds of of high school and photos from our "health" class books that were copyrighted circa 1988.

2.) Breakfast Cereal

In all sincerity, it breaks my heart to be writing about this, because I enjoy Golden Grahams cereal the way Barack Obama loves ripping down cigarettes; when I/Barack eat/smoke them/it, it gives me peace of mind and enjoyment, and the taste…ooohhhh the flavor!  Afterwards, I/Barack feel(s) foolish for having just ingested something that ultimately could be a direct contributor to diabetes/cancer; bummer.  Sorry cereal, but unless you’re a varietal that’s NOT made from corn…and then sweetened with refined sugars from…corn…than I think it’s time to hit the old, dusty, trail for that final gig in the sky with Thurl Ravenscroft.  What to do with all that land where you used to grow corn?  Well, why not grow a bunch of vegetables and flood the market so healthy fruits and veg can be more affordable?

"They were five total strangers, with breakfast in common." (from Ironic Sans)

3.) Soda

Hmmm…weeelllll, let’s see.  Instead, you could try…water, coconut water, orange juice, apple juice, cranberry juice, grapefruit juice, pomegranate juice, prune juice, Jamba Juice, coffee, tea, milk, milkshake, a malt – perhaps, Gatorade, Powerade, haterade, lemonade, limeade, cranberry lemonade, raspberry lemonade…you get the point.  There’s a wealth of other things to drink.  I love drinking a Coca-Cola as much as the next person; but do I need to?  Unless I’m a polar bear living in the Great White North who dabbles in sledding every now and then (particularly around the yuletide), I don’t think I do.

Alright, well, that was fun.  Now it’s your turn.  Tell me what you think, and I’ll post it up!