31 July 2009

Bachelor party

I apologize for slacking on a new post but ever since I guessed where my men-at-arms were planning on taking me for my bachelor party they've been consulting me on almost everything about the weekend. It's been exhausting. I'm such a nut, I have to research everything to the point that I get sick of it. The star of the weekend is an all out dinner at Morimoto. It should be great. I do have another post in the works so it may be a while before I post the bachelor event, but have no fear it most certainly will be gracing the face of my little world here. Until then, here's to a weekend of severe liver damage.

26 July 2009

Sunny Sunday Gluttony

This day began with me not knowing anything about where we were going or what we were doing. My fiance Nikki opted to plan a day for us together instead of purchasing me a gift. I liked the idea since it would give me a chance to generate content for my shiny new blog. After a long GPS-guided jaunt through the ghetto we ended up at the first stop of our day: Rocket to Venus.

This hipster-laden Hampden joint gave off a nice welcoming vibe. We opted to sit outside since this was probably the nicest weekend weather we've had all year. Throughout the meal the wait staff was constantly waving to locals walking and biking by. It was a really great feeling and one that is pretty much non-existent around Bel Air. I ordered a sangria and nikki ordered a mimosa and we opted to try the hummus plate as a starter.

The sangria was a nice white but a bit on the bitter side with apple and lemon chunks bobbing on top. I did order a second glass, which was sweeter and closer to what I expect in a white sangria. Maybe it was due to the fact that oranges had replaced the lemons. I pondered if Rocket to Venus employs a local mind-reader. Or a cyborg. I think I saw a guy behind the bar with blender hands. The mimosa was just what a mimosa should be, sweet and fizzy with a nice tart edge.

The hummus plate was terrific. My first bite of cheese and olive generated a moan that turned heads at every table. When I dine out, its usually Mexican or sushi or barbecue so I rarely get to sample decent olives but I realized today that olives and cheese is probably one of my favorite flavor combinations. Or maybe its just that since I don't eat them that much they have a greater impact on my palate. The hummus was probably some of the best I've had. It hit the perfect consistency between smooth and chunky and it wasn't too tart from a heavy handed use of lemon. The pita was great as were the fresh veggies and grapes that rounded out the dish.

For our meal I ordered the steak and eggs (medium rare and over easy) accompanied by sweet potatoes and a nice poblano gravy and Nikki ordered two eggs sunny side up with bacon, hash potatoes and white toast.

My rib-eye was cooked perfect and had a great charred taste to it my only complaint being a tough spots of gristle. The poblano gravy was the real star of the dish. It married well with the classic combo of steak and eggs and it also added a nice savory heat compliment to the sweet potatoes. I did feel that a bite of potato, eggs, and steak with the sauce didn't really come together. Separate, they were great. Overall, we left the table very satisfied and feeling about 3 months pregnant.

I dozed off into a sangria induced coma and awoke as we were pulling into a parking garage in downtown Annapolis. Apparently we had arrived at our next destination. Nikki lead me by hand as I stumbled along trying to deglaze my contacts from my eyeballs. The weather was gorgeous, complete with picturesque billowing white clouds and a light cool breeze from the water. Some sort of festival was taking place with live music and a beer and wine tasting tent, among other things. We walked down by the dock and watched the boats come in. We walked around long enough to build up an appetite for dinner and decided we were in the mood for sushi. We decided to head into Joss Cafe and Sushi Bar after seeing the Zagat rated sign in the window.

We got seated in the narrow hallway right by the kitchen and asked our server if we could move to the back of the restaurant, sitting in the hallway we felt very out of place. The front of the restaurant was very lively but the back was virtually empty, which was nice because the front was pretty loud. We ordered the tuna carpaccio seaweed salad as an appetizer.

This dish was very pretty and reminded me of the tuna sashimi at Bonefish Grill but better. I love seaweed salad, I could eat a bucket of it. The tuna was a gorgeous red and the sauce was nice and fresh, the roe really popped. Our first dish set our expectations pretty high for the sushi. I ordered the spicy yellowtail sashimi, a bagel roll, and after a suggestion from our server, the Urumaki which was smoked eel, shrimp, cucumber, avocado & tamago inside w/flying fish roe, scallions & eel sauce outside. Nikki ordered a spicy california roll with real crab and roe and a tuna avocado roll.

The spicy yellowtail was my first bite and immediately two things hit me: the bizarre texture of the sushi rice, and the off-putting spice. The major glaring issue was the rice. This was probably some of the worst sushi rice I’ve had to date. The grains were long and fat and al dente. It was like ricearoni sushi. The mouthfeel was terrible. In regards to the spice Usually spicy sushi has a nice indefinable heat to it. This was like someone dumped a bunch of cayenne powder on the fish and wrapped it up. I’m not saying it was too spicy, there are very few dishes I consider too spicy, but this spice was just not complimentary to sushi in any way. On the other hand each roll was topped with nicely toasted sesame seeds, which is always a plus. Also, the flying fish roe was some of the freshest I’ve had. It popped on every roll. The urumaki was too sweet. The flavors did work well together but the sweetness of the egg overpowered the other components of the roll. The bagel roll had way too much cream cheese. It should’ve been called the cream cheese roll. This was the first time I’ve ever left uneaten sushi on my plate. Ever. I’ve dealt with some epic stomach cramps in order to finish my sushi in previous outings, but Joss just didn’t do it for me. I didn’t get to try any of Nikki’s rolls, but later she said that it wasn’t great and she’s rarely one to complain. While I was waiting to use the restroom I noticed the Zagat ratings on the wall opposite. Zagat gave his place a 28 in last year’s edition. 28 is a very good score and I don’t think a single component of our meal justified a score that high. Now I do realize that Zagat isn’t the end all be all of food guides, but it is a decent base of comparison. Sushi Hana in Towson is one of my go-to places closer to home for decent sushi, not even great sushi, and it was better than this. It's got a Zagat rating of 23! We left thoroughly underwhelmed and hungry. I love sushi. Most sushi is good sushi in my opinion. Hell, I eat sushi at the local buffet in Bel Air all the time. But Joss just didn’t do it for me. Maybe this was just a bad batch of rice. Maybe we just didn't order the right thing. Unfortunately, aside from the tuna carpaccio seaweed salad, I didn't taste anything that justified such a high score from Zagat. Luckily, there’s practically an ice cream joint on every block and after a nice tall strawberry malt from Kilwin's Chocolate the disappointment had already started to fade. A long nap on the ride home completed an overall great day. Good times.

Joss Cafe & Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon
Rocket To Venus on Urbanspoon

22 July 2009

NYC 07/09: Day 3: Eating Big

After a quick shower and some web research we collected all of our things and thanked everyone for letting us stay the weekend. We decided to hit up Levain Bakery for one of their popular fist-sized cookies.

Originally, I planned on either hitting up Jing Fong for dim sum or Chola for some amazing Indian buffet, but I had a sweet tooth that apparently two milkshakes and pie from the dinner party hadn't quite satiated. It took a bit of navigating to find it since they have such a small sign in a tucked-away space, but we persevered. I ordered a chocolate peanut-butter cookie and Zack went with their most popular chocolate chip walnut.

These cookies were definitely big enough to provide adequate energy for walking the streets of Manhattan all day… or participating in a triathlon. They were colossal. Mine was packed with more peanut butter chips than I thought possible, but as soon as I tasted Zack’s I realized why it was their best-seller. The center was a gooey mass of cookie dough and the walnuts provided the perfect flavor and texture compliment. The mouthfeel was superb. I downed mine without much trouble--I pride myself on being a human garbage disposal—but it took Zack some serious effort to finish his. After a few bottles of water we were hydrated and packed full of carbs and ready to take on the city.

At first we walked down Broadway with no real direction just taking in the sights. We saw an Urban Outfitters so we stopped in there. Meanwhile Zack was trying to find the address to Forbidden Planet on his phone because I had been there on previous trips and thought he would appreciate it. We happened by a sign for Nintendo World so we high-tailed it over to Rockefeller Plaza.

Nintendo World was cool but nothing over the top. I picked up a case for my DSi and was hoping to find some sweet Dragon Quest toys, I really want a metal slime, but unfortunately the toys were mostly Pokemon, and the expected Mario and Zelda.

We did see some awesome old-school Mario wall stickers (masterfully modeled by yours truly above) but they were $75 a set. No thanks. I went to pay for my case and the cashier told us it was still a pretty long walk to Forbidden Planet so instead he suggested we hit up another comic shop. So we changed our destination to Midtown Comics at 45th and Lexington.

We headed over there and looked around. It was a pretty sweet comic shop all-in-all but I still didn’t find any sweet toys to add to my collection. There was a bust of Unicron from the Transformers animated movie but it was out of my price range. There was also a really sweet statue of Gandalf battling the Balrog, but that was even more out of my price range. We went to the 42nd St. station and, after checking the time, surmised that we didn’t have enough time to make it to the buffet which ended at 3. Frustration kicked in as I wracked my brain trying to think of a decent culinary destination to end our otherwise terrific weekend in the city. I was out of ideas and my Zagat handbook wasn’t really helping. It looked like it was going to be a shot in the dark… and the clock was ticking. I was almost at my breaking point when, in a last ditch effort, I scanned over my hand-written page of notes for anything in the West 40s and there it was, a shining beacon of barbecue delight: Daisy May’s BBQ USA at 11th Ave. and 46th St. I looked at Zack and asked if he were in the mood for barbecue and in typical Zack fashion he responded “Hells yeah, dude! I love barbecue.” We had our next culinary destination.

I had researched NYC barbecue joints for previous trips and Daisy May’s had always been a consideration, but for one reason or another I had never made it out there. I immediately felt more accustomed to the blocks close to Daisy May’s near the Western edge of Manhattan. There were no huge skyscrapers in sight and I almost felt like I was back home. It felt much less surreal and had an unpretentious vibe about it. I commented to Zack that if I ever had the chance to move to the city I think I would look for a place in that area of town. We rounded the corner and spotted the spinning BBQ sign and knew we had finally arrived.

Upon entering I was thrilled to find the cafeteria barbecue joint atmosphere that the e-reviewers had raved about. The sides were laid out in plain view and there were two workers manning the counter but with a laid back attitude that conveyed the notion that I could take all the time in the world to decide what I wanted. But I knew what I wanted. A big fat Oklahoma Beef Rib was what I wanted. I asked the guy what his most popular side items were and decided on the cheesy creamed corn and the sweet potatoes. A diet Barqs rounded out my order. After I placed the order the girl at the register confirmed it all with the guy prepping the food and I overheard him say “Diet??” I had the urge to say to him “Yes, I’m not counting calories, I just prefer diet over regular soda.” I was about to consume a football sized chunk of barbecued meat, the notion of counting calories seemed quite absurd at that point. Zack ordered the pulled pork with beans and rice and baked beans with beef tips and what turned out to be a monster jar of sweet tea. My order was up by the time Zack had placed his, and his quickly followed. The barbecue feast was about to begin. The dining area was great with it’s wood finish and a decently sized plasma TV mounted on opposite walls. One was showing country music videos and the other was showing the Mets game, I chose the seat facing the Mets game. Sorry Zack.

Don’t ask me why, but when it comes to barbecue I always go for the sides first. I dug into the golden glop first and my eyes lit up. This was the first time I had had creamed corn and cheese combined and it was instantly addictive. I noticed green and red bell pepper mixed in but if it had a little heat to it, I would’ve raved about it all day. I think I’ll do a little research on it and try making my own with the addition of some serranos or maybe chipotles. Nonetheless it was an awesome combination of sweet and savory. The cheese was nice and warm and smooth and the corn was whole kernel and gave a nice pop in each bite. I honestly don’t know how they got whole corn kernels like that. In my experience, when cutting corn straight from the cob it never feels quite whole and these certainly didn’t taste like any canned variety. Thinking about it right now is making my mouth water and my stomach rumble. I could eat a whole bowl of that stuff. It was a wonderful way to start the meal.

On the other hand, the sweet potatoes I must certainly rave about. These were without a doubt the best sweet potatoes I’ve ever had. This includes other barbecue places I’ve tried and sweet potato casserole served at Thanksgiving. The only other iteration of sweet potato that comes close to this is the sweet potato pancakes I had at EJ’s in Brooklyn a few years back. It was super smooth without a single lump and so creamy. I couldn’t put my finger on what made them so great, they just were. I think more often than not people doctor up sweet potatoes with too much sugar or marshmallows or whatever else, but these had the perfect level of sweetness. I hadn’t even tried my beef rib and I had already chalked this up as a great meal. I glanced across at Zack and he was doing much of same thing, having decimated his beans and rice and not touched the baked beans or pork. Sadly, I missed my chance to try them, they were gone. The baked beans were good but nothing special. I got what I thought was a nice burnt end in my bite but didn't taste anything so it may have been a cube of fat, I'm really not sure.

The pulled pork was so chopped and moist that it had an almost mushy consistency to it. The last pulled pork I had had before that was Andy Nelson's at our wedding shower, and it blew the pulled pork at Daisy May's out of the water. Another thing to mention was they didn't give Zack a bun, just a plastic container of pulled pork. I found that a tad strange. Is eating pulled pork as a big pile o' meat instead of a sandwich a common practice in some barbecue joints? I've never heard of it before. The sweet tea was great since it wasn't over-the-top sweet like most concoctions labeled as Southern Sweet Tea. Zack downed his entire jar of the stuff. If I had done that I would've been bouncing off the walls. Well done Zack, well done.

My beef rib was good not great, but I expected as much and ordered it more as a novelty than anything else. The overall experience was very primitive and if had had a spear handy I probably would've hunted locals for sport. The caramelized outer crust was definitely the best part. There was more fat content than I prefer, but the meat was tender and juicy and... abundant.

As much as I wanted to, and I most certainly could have, I did not finish the entire thing. I couldn't get the notion of walking around the city with a mean case of the meat sweats out of my head. I really would've been miserable if I had finished it all. Plus I practically licked my side dishes clean, so that gave me at least some sense of accomplishment.

The most off-putting thing about Daisy May's was the lack of table barbecue sauce(s). This was also a first for me. Barbecue establishments that I've been to always have their own sauce that they make and bottle. Perfecting one's own barbecue sauce, in my opinion, is a huge part of barbecue culture and should be a pre-requisite for opening your own barbecue joint. Zack even got up to ask the guy behind the counter and nope, no barbecue sauce. This was unexpected and definitely a mark in the negative category. After we were done stuffing our face, we relaxed for a bit and reminisced about the highlights of our great weekend. But it wasn't quite over yet. We paid our check and headed out the door. I had one more thing to do.

Ice cream. Yes, that's right, I am quite mad, quite mad indeed. I didn't do any research, but I wanted a nice sweet finish to my meal. Zack looked at me like I was insane, I think the sweet tea did him in. I saw a Pinkberry and the name rang a bell so we headed inside. I asked what the dealio was since I'd never been there and ended up sampling their coconut and passion fruit. I ordered a small passion fruit and since you get two toppings I did a double-up of strawberries. It was nice and light and refreshing. I've never been a huge fan of passion fruit, but this had a tangy sweet that struck me as more prevalent than iterations I had had in the past. I finished it, despite my stomach's protest during the last few bites. Bah, I surely walked it all off. Yeah, no... still recovering.

That is the conclusion of our weekend excursion in NYC. Sorry that some of the pictures from this post were blurry, I'll try to do better! I hope you enjoyed reading our tale and don't doubt that there will be other similar trips recounted on Microcosm K both from the recent past and the ever-promising future. Thanks for reading.

Daisy May's BBQ Usa on Urbanspoon
Levain Bakery on Urbanspoon

20 July 2009

Black Sigil: Blade of the retro-gamer

I decided to pick this up after seeing an associate playing it at work last week. This is pretty much a retro-gamer's wet dream. It's reminiscent Crono Trigger and Final Fantasy 6 combined. Yes, the encounter rate is a bit on the high side, but that doesn't dull the terrific feel of traveling back to the golden age of 16-bit gaming. While playing it I feel as if I'm playing a SNES RPG that somehow slipped under my radar. I'm only about 1.5 hours into it but I'm loving it. The music is great and the environs are unique and interesting. I've already found all kinds of secret treasures. The sound effects are a bit lacking but, again, this can be easily overlooked when considering the old-school charm. I already want to do bead sprites of the entire cast. Yeah, bead sprites. Google it if you aren't "in the know". Pick this one up, it's great.

NYC 07/09: Day 2: The Horror at Di Fara

At some point in the night I feel a heavy dead weight on my leg. I figure Zack somehow crossed over onto my futon but I was too out of it to look into the matter further, I simply ripped my leg out from under the heavy log-like mass and passed back out. 9am rolls around and I groggily arose as nature was calling. I rub my eyes and try to get a sense of my surroundings and what do I find but a completely nude man whom I don't recognize sleeping next to me. A moment of confusion hits unlike nothing I've ever experienced. The last thing I remember is Adam and his girlfriend saying goodnight and Zack and I passing out on our respective futons. And somehow in the four hours following a naked man has made his way into my bed. Upon closer inspection I realize it is in fact Adam, he was luckily facing away from me. I slink out of the bed without making the slightest sound and in doing so completely cramp up my left calf. So here I am hopping around on one leg, cringing in pain, not making a peep for fear of waking the naked beast. I go to the restroom to get my thoughts together and make sense of this whole affair. I come back out and see that Zack has also arisen and I look at him and spread my hands and say simply "What the F-!? What the F- ?!?! What the F- is this!?!?" Zack has no idea. He gets up to relieve himself. Adam is oblivious to it all. I set my plan of action and get to work. While looking the other way, I kick his foot saying "Adam!" "Adam!" in the loudest whisper I can manage. Finally, he blearily arouses, turns and looks up at me and says simply "F- you man". He grabs the sheets off of Zack's futon to cover himself up and stumbles back into his bedroom without saying another word. Am I still dreaming? Things like this just don't happen. But this was all too real. We manage to get back to sleep and don't wake back up until 1pm. This is by far the latest I've slept in since college. Everyone else is awake and the house is bustling with activity since they were getting ready for the dinner party they were hosting that night. After breaching the subject as delicately as possible we find out that apparently Adam sleep nude. He woke up to use the restroom and his step-dad was in there so he plopped down on the first thing he saw, which happened to be my bed. I guess he was still a bit drunk due to the fact that he failed to notice that I WAS SLEEPING THERE. I will never forget that experience as long as I live. Great tan Adam.

Well since we slept in so late my breakfast plans to hit up Barney Greengrass were down the tubes. After a quick shower I conversed with Zack and said since it's lunchtime and we missed out on pizza the night before that's what I wanted. I had Sal and Carmine's lined up since it was close and supposedly great. I off-handedly expressed my desire to go to Di Fara but said it was quite a hike out to Midwood and, as always, the ever-adventurous Zack simply said "Let's do it." That was all I needed to hear. Di Fara here we come. We hopped on the C train to 42nd then transferred onto the Q out to Ave J. The ride wasn't too bad, the Q train looked brand new and had a swanky digitalized stop display. Not too shabby. We got to street level and turned and there it was, Di Fara in all its majesty. I had read so much about it and couldn't believe I was finally going to get to try it. I knew about the legendary waits, of course, but upon seeing no line outside I got super-excited. Had we somehow found the sweet spot on Saturday when there are no lines at Di Fara? Upon entering and speaking with some of the patrons I find that the line can be very deceiving. We were most certainly in store for the 1-1.5 hour wait that I was expecting. We figured out how to order and when I looked to Zack for opinions on what toppings to get I got the usual "Whatever you want, man" response. So I came up with half pepperoni, sun dried tomatoes, onions and half sausage, sun dried peppers, onions. Mr. DeMarco's son scribbled down our order on the notepad and it looked like we were about 4 pages back. We waited around a minute to watch the master at work. This display of old world pizza artisanship makes the time go by much faster than one would expect. Eventually we hit up a grocery store across the street for some beverages since neither of us had eaten since about 11pm the previous night. I got a Mango Madness Snapple which I had never seen before in my native Maryland. Very mango-y. This market was playing some crazy Middle Eastern jams and that combined with the excitement of getting to sample what some refer to as the best pizza in the world an impromptu dance party broke out by the frozen foods section.

As you can clearly see, I may be a skinny white boy, but I've got some ridiculous moves. Afterwards we browsed the discount store next to Di Fara for hoots and hollars. Now we know where to get spare toilet seats or statues of Jesus should the need ever arise during future visits to Brooklyn. Good to know.

We return to Di Fara and gobble up an open spot at the counter and settle in for some spectating. We ordered our pizza at around 3:15pm. I occupied myself by making friends with a few women and their mother who had also never been there before but were from Hells Kitchen. They actually took a pizza that was up for grabs after the owner didn't announce himself. Looking back I wish we had acted on it. It was around 4:30pm and I was starting to get anxious. The excitement was building as the patrons emptied out and the sign went up signifying that they were out of dough and would re-open in a few hours.

Five o'clock rolled by and my body started to protest. I figured we would've had our pizza by now and the lack of calories started giving me the shakes as it usually does. At around 5:30 things really took at turn for the worse. There was a line outside since the door was barred and there were also people at the window placing orders for when he re-opened at 7. Suddenly the guy who was first in line, a very obnoxious Sicilian, bursted in the door and started yelling at Dom about how he had been waiting in line for an hour and people were placing orders from the window. He was relentless. I wanted to punch him in the face for treating the quiet gentle-hearted Dom that way. I wanted to punch him in the face for delaying my pizza. I wanted to punch him in the face for yelling in my ear. Dom turned and since they had already put up the notebook, he grabbed a pizza box and scribbled down this irate jackass's order, which was 3 pies. Then after Dom turned back to his work the guy asked if he could bring in his family. In comes half the damn New York Sicilian population. It seemed like aunts, uncles, grandparents, and three VERY loud children. The previously half-empty dining instantly transformed into a chaotic circus. This wasn't happening. A large vein popped out in my forehead. To add flames to the fire while this whole fiasco was taking place a regular who ordered right after us had just walked away with his 2 pies.

Screaming kids. Empty stomach. The fear of the possibility that my pizza was forgotten. The urge to kill was rising. I wanted to feed an ATM a stray cat. I'm on the verge of tears when our toppings finally make it to the table and Dom sets to crafting our pie.

Relief washes over me in an awesome wave. It's almost 5:50 when we sit down with our pizza. This had better be worth the wait. Unfortunately, it wasn't.

The ingredients were by far the best I've had on a pizza, especially the sun roasted peppers. They added a sweetness that at first I thought was inherent in the sauce but realized I had selected a slice with a lot of peppers. The fresh basil was also money. The crust was great but nothing mindblowing. The thing that annoyed me the most is I had to eat each slice in two parts.

Dividing the slice horizontally, the lower half was so soggy due to the olive oil that the moment I tried to pick it up, it completely fell apart. Only the top half could be eaten without the use of a knife and fork, and I hate using a knife and fork for pizza, it feels so... unnatural. After we were done eating I was covered in oil/grease to the elbows.

It soaked through two plates and a paper towel onto the table. I felt pretty disgusting. All in all the pizza was very good, just not usually what I prefer. The man most certainly makes a good pie, I just like my pizza a lot less greasy and with a crust substantial enough to enable one to eat it without the use of silverware. If I go back I will probably order either a plain pie or just a few slices. After we cleaned up as much as we could we had to flag them down to pay them. We could've easily walked right out the door and no one would've said a word. In the end, we ate great pizza but waited too long to do so.

Our next stop was 5 Napkin Burger for the supposed best milkshake in Manhattan. I didn't get my hopes up too high because I was pretty sure it wouldn't beat out the Stand. That milkshake was otherwordly. We got there and put in our names for a 20 minute wait but quickly gobbled up two seats at the bar. We ordered two s'mores milkshakes and used the wait to clean up from our grease bath. It was really great to watch the girl bartender use a butane torch to toast our marshmallows. Something the Stand most certainly didn't do. It was kind of a turn on. The flame had to have been 8 inches at least, it was huge.

One thing I immediately noticed about this milkshake was the marshmallow looked homemade whereas the ones on the Stand shake looked of the bagged variety. As I had expected, this milkshake was great, but not better than the toasted marshmallow masterpiece. The consistency was closer to what one would find at your standard burger joint. The marshmallow itself was better, and there was a really solid graham flavor with lovely little graham bits waiting at the bottom of the glass, but it didn't hit me like the first one. Zack pointed out that maybe the first one upped our standards and if we had had this one first it would've had a more significant impact. I conceded the possibility, but what ultimately put the TMM above the S'mores was the ultra combo of extreme marshmallowy flavor and a consistency which enabled sublime drinkability.

We decided to walk the 3.5 miles back to Adam's place for his dinner party, hoping the walk would help with digestion and revive our appetite. It didn't. So, we felt like complete jerks when we sat down for dinner and ate nothing more than a bite here and there. We didn't plan on eating pizza so late and were hoping the s'mores milkshake would be light like the TMM, but unfortunately it didn't turn out that way. After dinner we went to their local watering hole and played darts while they played pool. Again, we passed out around 5am. I fell asleep with fingers crossed, hoping to wake up in the morning with no one in my bed other than myself.

Five Napkin Burger on Urbanspoon
DiFara Pizza on Urbanspoon

16 July 2009

NYC 07/09: Day 1: Milkshake Epiphany

I visit NYC fairly often to hang out with friends and commence the cosmic gluttony. I usually eat more than any normal human being would, but then I try to walk it off while touring the city and doing other things. It usually works... not always. I'm definitely feeling a bit squishy today, but it was most certainly worth it. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. This trip was a birthday present to myself. I took the bus up with my friend Zack whom I met while working as a QA tester at Big Huge Games. We stayed with my friend Adam whom I met through World of Warcraft. Adam and I were in a guild together, he was one of the main tanks and I was the mage class lead. We met when our guild had a get together out in Vegas and have kept in touch, although neither of us still play the game. Now that I've thoroughly outlined the reasoning behind the trip, let's get to the good stuff...

Friday I went in to work early so I could leave at 2pm, rush home and get my things and then burn down to the Baltimore Travel Plaza to catch the 2:50pm bus to Port Authority. Zack met me at my house and we arrived at the station at 2:45pm just in time. Or so we thought. We got our tickets at the counter and ran outside expecting the bus to arrive any second. We waited. And waited. We watched other people board their buses all the while wondering if someone was playing a cruel joke on us. On top of the fact that our bus was nowhere to be seen the slack-jawed yokels that work at the station couldn't even give us a straight answer as to whether or not we missed it. At around 4:10pm as we were standing on the curb a bus driver happened to be walking by and inquired what our destination was. He said he was going to Port Authority but he had a stop in Newark and was running late but would arrive around 8:30pm. He offered us a ride and we gladly took it. The weekend finally began.

We arrived in NYC around 8:40pm and knew exactly where we were going and what we were going to eat. Zack is the kind of guy who's up for anything but has no opinion one way or the other, so I took the liberty to research and plan where we were going. I'm a foodie, it's what we do!

My first planned eating destination was Una Pizza Napoletana. They open at 5pm and only serve pizza until they run out of fresh dough at which point they close. Our bus was supposed to arrive at 6:35pm, so I was set on going there. But since we didn't roll in until almost 9pm, I had already resigned myself to the notion of yet another trip without UPN. But the always optimistic Zack suggested we go by there anyway since it wasn't very far from my back-up dinner spot. So we arrived closer to 9pm and found a line outside. My hopes were restored; I was finally going to get to try good New York pizza. We get in line behind 2 girls and my spirits are definitely lifted. A guy comes out covered in flour and wearing a white apron, he obviously worked there, and goes up to the two girls in front of us and mumbles something to them and they nod signifying they understand and he walks back inside. One girl turns to me and says "Sorry but they're closed, they're out of dough." I respond: "They're out of dough? What is everyone in line for then?" She says "Oh we got the last two doughs." I look to Zack while she goes on to say that they'll be open at the same time tomorrow but I barely hear her. Screwed out of pizza again. I growl something unintelligible and show the restaurant a majestic double one finger salute. I storm off, Zack, perplexed, following behind. I'm done with UPN. Pizza, no matter how good, shouldn't be this arrogant. I understand the man may have a love for his craft and be a tad eccentric, but this is a ridiculous way to do business.

Luckily, I had multiple back-up plans. Not missing a beat, we head to Holy Basil for highly recommended Thai food. We get there and the décor is great, if a bit moody. It felt kind of strange being two starving energized dudes who just arrived in the big city, ready to paint it red, and our first stop is an intimate dimly lit Thai dinner. The waiter approaches and we order the Duck Spring Rolls and two Thai Chang beers.

The beer was excellent, unlike any domestic I've had that's for sure. It reminded me of Kingfisher with a few more flavor dimensions. The spring rolls were good with a nice crisp shell and moist duck in the middle. The accompanying sauce was also great. I probably could've eaten it with a spoon. Nothing spectacular, but a nice start to the meal. After some recommendations from the waiter I order the Pet Kaprow which he said was the house specialty and Zack ordered the Kang Massa-mun.

My duck was fabulous. One of the best iterations of duck I've had to date. Each piece was crispy and succulent. The Thai basil definitely popped, but I would've liked a bit more. You can never have too much basil. The bell pepper and tomato added an extra layer of moistness that rounded out the whole dish. I didn't try too much of Zack's curry but the chicken was tender and he raved about how addicting the sauce was. We tried another round of beers this time going with Tiger, which was good but fell short in the shadow of the surprisingly light and complex flavor of Chang. We paid the check, downed our beers, grabbed our bags and headed out the door. Little did we know we were on our way to the dessert that would be the culinary highlight of the weekend.

The next destination on our itinerary was the Stand for a Toasted Marshmallow Milkshake. I first came across this wonderful creation on the widely popular food blog Serious Eats. After seeing the photo, my dreams were filled with merry romps through lightly caramelized marshmallow fields and swimming in streams of heavenly white goo. Then, about a week before my trip, I saw it again on Food Network's 'The Best Thing I've Ever Had' being destroyed by Iron Chef Michael Symon. Not just one, but three! That sealed the deal. I had to have it. We arrived at what we expected to be a burger joint but was unlike any burger joint we'd ever seen. This place had a full bar right in the middle and a DJ setting up in the back pumping 80s tunes into the whole scene. It was rad. Our waitress came up and attempted to hand us menus but we told her we knew what we wanted and ordered two milkshakes. We took turns in the restroom and before Zack returned, she was on her way back, milkshakes in hand.

I couldn't help it, I took a sip before he got back and immediately starting giggling to myself. It was somehow better than I had imagined. It wasn't overly thick, but it wasn't too thin. It was light and drinkable and filled with tiny bits of marshmallow. The straw was nice and wide so there were no hang-ups. I immediately understood how Michael Symon could drink 3 in a row. I was considering it, and would have had we not planned on hitting the bars afterwards. After our initial reaction a couple walked by and the woman turned to us and said "Toasted Marshmallow Milkshakes, that's why we're here. Amazing aren't they?" I emphatically agreed. We got talking and she recommended a few bars for us to try nearby. She also said that this milkshake was her second favorite in the city. "Second favorite?" I asked "There's something better than this?" She said the only milkshake in the city better than this was the S'mores milkshake at 5 Napkin Burger. Dessert plans for Saturday? Check. I felt that $6 was a little expensive for a milkshake but when Zack and I discussed it, we both agreed that we would've gladly paid $10 for this wonderful elixir of marshmallowy goodness. This one definitely restored all HP/MP. We paid the check and off we went to the next destination, a bar suggested by our fellow shake enthusiast, the Half Pint.

Upon entering Half Pint we immediately validated her opinion as sound. This bar was great. It had a decent amount of room to move around without too much extra space, the décor was minimal and the lighting was darker but not dark. And one could immediately see all of the lovely beers on tap. I asked the bartender for a suggestion and after a few seconds of deliberation (his first suggestion was Brooklyn Lager which I promptly shot down, not a fan) we ordered up two Blue Point Toasted Lagers. This beer was also unlike anything I had had before. The foam was had a bitter edge and before it hit my lips I thought it would be overly bitter, but the lager was anything but. It was smooth and definitely toasty. After the foam dissipated, so did the bitterness. It went down easily and was very pleasant. I'm not sure if this beer is something I would drink in any large amount because I feel the toastiness might become too much. Even though I'm most certainly not a fan of Budweiser they make a good point that drinkability is very important. I regret not ordering a second round because I really would've liked to try the Blue Point Blueberry seasonal, but we had an agenda to maintain.

I got a hold of Adam who just got off work at midnight and said he would be at Bar East until close so we could rendezvous with him at anytime.

So we started walking north, making stops in Washington Square for some scenic pictures and Union Square for an hour and a half of ridiculous breakdancing. Zack and I are both fans, and watching these guys battle it out to MJ meddlies was definitely a highlight of the trip. We finally made it up to Bar East on 90th St. around 2am where Adam was playing pool. He had an open tab so I ordered the last bottle of Kingfisher, which I love, and Zack and I threw down on some darts. My first two throws were straight bulls-eyes. It was going to be a good weekend. This bar was fairly typical; you could tell most of the patrons were locals as they all mingled together. After my Kingfisher I took a suggestion from the bartender and had a Defiant Muddy Creek microbrew. It wasn't very good. We did a round of patron silver shots and hung out until close. We played some 3 Inches of Blood on the jukebox and no one was into it. I wasn't surprised. Adam looked at me with a smirk and just shook his head. I mean, why would someone not love metal about killing orcs and robots from the future? If you don't, you may want to reconsider reading this blog as I'm not sure you belong here. Shortly after last call we headed back to Adam's place and crashed out. I had been up for over 24 hours and I was spent. I could never imagine what the morning had in store for me...

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Holy Basil on Urbanspoon

15 July 2009

Birthday irony

I was at the gym last night doing back extensions and what do you know I pulled something in my back so now I'm forced to gingerly walk around like a brittle old man. Isn't it ironic, don't you think? Hit 28 and your body just starts falling apart. Live it up while you can, you youngins!

14 July 2009

Happy birthday to me!

Yes, today I turn the ripe old age of 28. Looking back, I’ve had a great life to this point, and with my marriage just a few short weeks away, I’d say I have a fairly bright future ahead of me. Sparkly even. Twinkly, for sure. Anyway, today I’m not really celebrating. When one’s birthday falls on a Tuesday, how much awesome stuff can one really do? I did, however, manage to finally finish Suikoden Tierkreis.

My verdict? It’s hard to say really. Since the original Suikoden it has been one of my all-time favorite RPG series, but as most RPGamers know the last few installments have been less than stellar. Tierkeis is the second game I’ve played since I bought my DSi, the first being the masterful Final Fantasy Tactics A2. All-in-all I’m not sure if I will play through Tierkriese again. The voice acting was horrendous for the most part and the bosses were laughably easy, most of which lasted no more than 2-3 rounds. The 3-d character models were so-so, but the 2-d backdrops were great.

The highlight for me was definitely the music. Usually, I listen to game music to reminisce about the great gaming moments I had, but in this case, since there weren’t any really great gaming moments, I think I will just listen to it solely because it is good game music. Nothing more, nothing less. I'm actually pleased they didn't include the strategic battling in this installment because, frankly, those fights always annoyed me and served as a distraction away from the traditional RPG goodness. I do miss the duels though.

Now for the real dilemma at hand: What to play next? I've been seriously considering doing a run through of FF7 on emulator. I own multiple copies of FF7 and Playstation so therefor I would break no laws by doing so. I think it would be fun to use the fast-forwarding to level up all of my materia, which I've done in the past only through hours of mindless grinding. But there is a shiny new game out for the DS I've been dying to try: Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled which is a nod to the old-school 16-bit RPGs that I love like Crono Trigger. So I will ponder these thoughts while plodding away on the treadmill at the gym and hopefully come to a conclusion. I'm thinking it will be FF7 but Black Sigil does look pretty radical...

13 July 2009

The spark of life...

Well, what to say on my first post? I won't go into detail about who I am because that is what the about me section is for (which I plan on filling out at some point, I promise). Instead, I will outline what topics this blog will cover. There are two things I am hugely passionate about and those are food and gaming, but, sadly, I've never come across a blog that combines the two. So, after much consideration and self-debate, here we are in Microcosm K--Yes, that's right, K stands for Kyle, Ingenious isn't it?

A few things I would like to note:

1. I have the memory of a goldfish so the main reason I started recording all of my culinary adventures is so I could remember them and learn from them.

2. Grammar has never been my strong suit, so I will put forth extra effort to keep this blog as legible as possible.

3. While this blog will mostly be dedicated to cooking, eating out, and games... I will most certainly post about any number of topics... I'm quite complex. And strange. I'm pretty sure every person I've ever met has called me weird at some point or another. I'm used to it.

I have a lot of back-logged food adventures that I want to post so I can get some content on here, but for now I think this short introductory post will suffice.

Welcome to my little world. Welcome to Microcosm K.