Adventures on the Poutine Trail

Patati Patata

The patati patata, topped with a single kalamata olive. Très chouette.

I once read an argument that pad thai is as close as one can get to a perfect food. This had to do, as I recall, with complicated reasons of nutrition and global food supply and economics. I think, though, if we were thinking only of taste, the perfect food would involve not rice noodles and peanuts, but French fries, cheese curds and gravy.

Longtime readers of the blog might remember my love affair with the poutine I found on a trip to Vancouver a few years ago, but we recently upped the ante with a trip to Quebec province, the very epicenter of poutine culture. When we crossed the border into Canada and the guard asked us what our plans were in Montreal, we told him the truth, which basically amounted to “going to the Biodome and eating poutine.”

“You know, you can get that at McDonald’s,” he said, deadpan. Droll border guard! We had no intention of settling for the fast food version. We were on a mission to find high-class, vegetarian-friendly poutine. Oh, and find it we did. Continue reading

Tempted by the Night Market, Sated by Jackson Heights

dr fish

A fish has gotta eat…

When we were living in Asia, it took me a while to warm to the idea of night markets. It seemed like everything on sale, from street food to “Same Same But Different” t-shirts, was priced slightly higher for the benefit of looking at it in very dim lighting. But then the Siem Reap night market gradually won me over as I came to realize two advantages it provided over the daytime markets: 1) everyone feels better about getting drunk, which is really the only pleasurable way to shop for anything, and 2) there was a tank where you could pay to have tiny fish eat the dead skin off your feet, which was even better than drunk-shopping.

So needless to say, when I heard about the grand opening of this year’s Queens International Night Market, I was intrigued. Queens is an empire of ethnic food, from the feta cheese of Astoria to the dumplings of Flushing, so the idea of a night market in such an atmosphere made visions of a super-sized Smorgasburg dance in my head. Maybe it wasn’t even too much of a pipe dream to hope for a spa fish or two. I did some stomach-stretching exercises and set out for the territories near Corona Park. Continue reading

Pictures at an Exhibition: Smorgasburg Comes to Prospect Park

lumpiaIt was a rough and windy day for anyone trying to peddle lemonade, but somehow or other, it came just the same. Smorgasburg, the movable feast and Brooklyn Flea spinoff that has been charming Williamsburg for five years had its grand opening this Sunday in Prospect Park. It’s there every Sunday of the spring and summer from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m, so head over if you want to see any of these things: dogs in the throes of ecstasy at finding the dropped food and trash-robbing jackpot, discerning infants who can tell the difference between a ramp and a leek at fifty paces, bearded men who will tutor you in the restorative powers of mushroom tea, tiny fried eggs on a stick and lots of people picking roasted corn out of their teeth.

bulgogi sliderjianbing in progressTruly, though, Smorgasburg exceeded my expectations. Amid the more expected fare like French fries and pulled pork sandwiches was a lot of stuff that I’d never tasted before. Here are a few of the treasures we found on our sampling round: crispy Filipino-style spring rolls stuffed with adobo-marinated mushrooms from the Lumpia Shack; a saucy seitan bulgogi sandwich on a heavenly roll from Monk’s Vegan Smoke Shack; a wacky Shanghai street food crepe/omelet/rice cracker mash-up from Jianbing Co. The last one suffered from long lines, though to be fair, it also had some of the best entertainment in the form of passersby trying to figure out how to describe it. (“It’s like a giant taco thing.” Um. Not really.)

Plus we ate some French fries, because food doesn’t have to be novel to be delicious. Continue reading

Shannon’s Guide to NYC’s Best Vegetarian Sandwiches


The greasy paper, picnic table majesty of a Parisi sandwich

Recently, I went to a Volume 1 Brooklyn event celebrating the launch of their sandwich-themed essay collection. It’s not hard to surmise why I attended. Just about everyone in the audience had a deep love of sandwiches; you could see it in their eyes. And while I had no complaints about the quality of the writing, I was underwhelmed by the quality of the sandwiches discussed. It felt a little like a group therapy session for those suffering from sandwich guilt, finally airing their dirty secrets about Arby’s, Subway and White Castle.

People! You live in New York City, a veritable cornucopia of beautiful sandwiches! I am a vegetarian, so a large percentage of these sandwiches fall outside of my purview, and STILL I can list a number of sandwiches that are absolutely-cannot-miss experiences. In fact, I think I will do just that.

Parisi Bakery, Little Italy: Early in our relationship, I was reading a manuscript by Jason that had an extended sandwich-eating scene. My comment in the margins was something like, “I don’t really see how this scene moves the plot along,” and he sheepishly admitted that he wrote it mostly because he wanted to describe a Parisi sandwich. Now that I’ve had them, I know why. Parisi is the most old school of Italian bakeries, and when they pile their fresh rolls with loads of fresh mozzarella, pesto, pepperoncini and just about any other topping your heart desires, all for about eight or nine bucks…marone! Now that’s a sandwich.

Noodle Bar, West Village: Most people wouldn’t go searching for sandwiches at a spot that specializes in a very different kind of food, but I can’t get enough of the vegetarian sau bien at this place. Continue reading

Chicago: The Culinary Nostalgia Tour


Hello again, beautiful.

Which was more essential: Tapas Barcelona or Dave’s Italian Kitchen? What had happened to Giordano’s? And above all, what was the maximum number of meals I could squeeze into a forty-eight-hour period? It was questions like these that tormented me as I worked and reworked our tight schedule.

As some readers may already know, I spent a handful of formative years in Chicago and have had reason to travel there for work lately. But Jason hadn’t been there for many years and he’d never been there with me, which meant that his consumption of cheese in the Windy City was sorely lacking. He decided to join me there for a weekend, but immediately after the plane ticket was purchased, the nail biting began—how to fit six glorious years worth of high-metabolism memories into a single weekend? Tough decisions had to be made. In the end, though, I think I did a good job of picking places that can’t be matched anywhere else (yes, even NYC). Here are a few highlights for the next time you’re in the neighborhood.

Al’s Deli: Yes, I know that “deli” is in the name, but that description doesn’t quite capture the magic of the place. It made me feel oddly at peace when I saw that the two aging brothers who run this place were still at it. One nervously takes the orders; the other, almost invisible to the customers, diligently makes the impeccable sandwiches. We got a Gruyere and a Jarlsberg and took them to a picnic table at a nearby lighthouse. I was so enchanted I forgot to take picture. Continue reading

What Was On Hand No. 136: Slaw Dressing On the Shoulders of Mission Chinese

Pretty, but kinda wonky.

Pretty, but kinda wonky.

As part of my buddy Tancil’s birthday evening a while back, I ended up in Cobble Hill at Mission Chinese Food.  Mission Chinese used to live in the East Village, makes pretty much the best Chinese food I’ve ever had if you consider Chinese a cuisine that uses Chinese food as a launch pad into Chinese’ish awesomeness, and recently took up residence in Brooklyn after some kind of kerfuffle with rent in Manhattan.  These factors apparently combined to make The Times take notice and dedicate the “Eat” section of the Sunday Magazine to the place, something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in my twelve or so years of subscribing to the Sunday Times.

So I went ahead and riffed on their recipe for Cabbage Salad with Sesame-Anchovy Dressing, which was okay except for the fact that I ended up ignoring the recipe’s measurements because I don’t know why and also substituting green-olive hummus or something like that for tahini because that’s what I had on-hand.  The results were pretty but mixed.

The next night, the fridge still full of unused cabbage and other CSA veggies looking for a fate, I combined the remaining “traditional” and red cabbages, spring onion greens, peeler- Continue reading

Do You Like Me, Ooey-Gooey? Check Yes or No

ample hills cookbookIt’s a little embarrassing that I’ve developed a hardcore crush on Ample Hills Creamery just as they are taking on a celebrity shine following the release of their eponymous cookbook. I would like everyone to know that I have totally liked this Brooklyn ice cream shop and their Salted Crack Caramel flavor for years at this point, the same way I liked Leonardo DiCaprio starting with his What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? days, way before everyone jumped on the Titanic bandwagon.

But there’s no denying that I have experienced a fresh rush of Ample Hills love ever since I went to an event last week at Powerhouse Books to celebrate the release of the book, and now, as happens with every good crush, I see them everywhere and find myself thinking of the texture of the St. Louis butter cake in the Ooey-Gooey flavor while at work, doodling pictures of ice cream cones in the margins of my notebooks, eavesdropping on other people’s conversations about my beloved in bars, etc. If you’ve never had it, you just have to trust me that this is sublime ice cream.

It is only fair to note that not everyone shares my unconditional excitement. Some people say it’s too sweet, some people say it’s too expensive, some people say that it rests on the laurels of a few stand-out flavors while everything else is sub-par. I understand that there might be a tiny kernel of truth at the center of each of those complaints. But this is a crush we’re talking about. So I think those people are stupid.

My concern at the moment is that this crush is almost certainly unrequited. At the Powerhouse event, the authors of the cookbook (co-owners Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna with marketing director Lauren Kaelin) asked the crowd to submit ice cream flavors inspired by books. Be still, my heart. If ever there were a contest made for me, it was this one, but I panicked and spent most of the allotted time wondering if maybe I could base an ice cream flavor on Slouching toward Bethlehem. Continue reading

File with the Takeout Menus

Last night, while I was struggling to pull myself together after a weekend out of town, I was reminded afresh of the bounty of the New York City take-out scene. With dozens of places willing to deliver until late, it’s a miracle that I ever manage to cook anything at all. But how to choose with so many possibilities? I made this flowchart to help me decide; feel free to use it if you live in the neighborhood or try making your own.

takeout flowchart

A Culinary Commemoration of Our First President

crossing the delaware

Liberty and cornmeal for all!

This weekend I found myself a little depressed by our collective neglect of Presidents Day, or rather, our insistence that we get the day off work or school without any actual lauding of our nation’s leaders. Come on guys: George Washington was kind of awesome, and we’ve already downgraded his birthday to a more generic celebration of all presidents. Doesn’t he deserve a little more respect? What form that respect should take is a little harder to parse. It’s not like I’m suggesting we go full-on North Korea with demonstrations of military might and square dancing for our former leaders’ birthdays. But since fate was bringing me to the nation’s capital on Presidents Day weekend and I always prefer tributes involving food, I thought that I should do my best to find a Washington-worthy dish.

I spent Saturday in Baltimore, and though I was in the most Washingtonian of neighborhoods, Mount Vernon, complete with a toga-wearing statue of the man himself, the mushroom sandwich that I ate there did not strike me as particularly presidential. Nor was the delicious Mexican food I ate that night, nor the delectable Burmese food I had the next day in D.C. I’m hardly an expert in the realm of presidential trivia, but the possibility of Washington having traveled extensively in Mexico or Burma seemed like a bit of a stretch to me.

So as my time in D.C. was drawing to a close and my last meal there was shaping up to be lunch with my friend Mignon at the Bayou Bakery (her one-time Grub Match pick), the prospects for a culinary GW send-up were looking pretty grim. And then—eureka! Continue reading

Dead Man Gnawing: Mexican Cold Ones

I believe that we need more salt-rimmed beverages in our lives.  Or, at least, in my life.  As the salt cures me, it will preserve my liver as well.  This is all about science.

We all know about salt-rimmed margaritas and licking the salt before taking a shot of tequila.  A few years ago, however, I was turned on to micheladas, Mexican beers mixed with various lime-tomato-chili combinations and served on ice in a salt-rimmed glass. My favorite has long been the one served at the incomparable Chevela’s in Prospect Heights.  Their tomato mixture is some kind of spicy bloody mary mix and the salt on the rim is mixed with something tangy.  Shannon speculates dried tamarind.  (Shannon, who loathes tomato juice, loves micheladas; so what does that tell you?) Last night, though, we ate at El Centro in Hell’s Kitchen after watching Alvin Ailey’s dancers kill it, and the micheladas there are simply Modelo Especial mixed with fresh lime and mottled costeño chile, a moderately hot chili used in sauces.  They were fresh and refreshing.  Presented with straws, we sucked them down in minutes.

They got me wondering, though, about the origins of the michelada.  And the wondrous internet provides a handful of different possibilities. Continue reading