20 September 2009

retro.spec: Eating the Big Apple in April '09

Retro.spec is a series of posts I post about past culinary experiences. In these posts I try to recount as much detail as possible, but will more often than not focus on the food and general likes and dislikes.

Welp, let me just start out by saying I wasn't able to visit a single place I had researched for my trip. I realized that for a foodie, the destination is always the food but for a normal person the food is just a stop on the way to another destination. That being said, I had an amazing weekend and got to sample some great cuisine:

Spice Cove - Lunch - Excellent meal for under $7.

The garlic nan was the best nan I've eaten to this date. The roasted garlic pieces embedded in the bread were little nuggets of heaven.

My friend Skott ordered the Mango Lassi and it was the best way to spend $3 in NYC that I've encountered.

The vegetable samosa was great. That's all I have to say about that.

The Lamb Korma was the first curry I've had that was subtle enough to where you could taste the lamb. It was very different from past curry dishes I've had. I really enjoyed the strong lamb presence in the dish.

il laboratorio del gelato - Awesome flavors. My personal order was espresso and coconut.

It tasted like a mounds bar on crack. Other flavors I sampled were chocolate hazelnut, banana, mint, and strawberry. The banana and mint were both noticeably smoother than the other flavors and the overall group favorite was chocolate hazelnut.

Una Pizza Napoletana - Arrived at 9pm Friday night and as expected it was closed after running out of fresh dough. Bah!

Driggs Pizza - Late night dinner - Since we got rejected from UPN my friend Andy whom we stay with was leading us to a bar took us here for a slice en route.

I ordered a grandma slice and a slice of buffalo chicken, both shown above. The grandma slice, which was the recommended slice was terrific, my first slice of genuinely good NYC pizza. The rest of the slices on the table (white, buffalo chicken, eggplant, plain) were mediocre and pedestrian.

Mesa Grill - Brunch - Once we found out that our first brunch destination shut down (The Neptune Room) we hit the net and found that the brunch menu at Mesa Grill was reasonably priced. We made our res and rushed out the door. This was probably the culinary highlight of the trip. I could write tons and tons here but let me highlight a few brief points.

The jelly which accompanied the complimentary baked goodies at the beginning of the meal was delightfully spicy.

The carrot mango juice was shunned in the aftermath of the almighty mango lassi from spice cove.

Both the barbecue pork quesadilla and the salmon and tuna tartare appetizers were great. The high point on the quesadilla was the terrific cunchy slaw.

My friend George was raving about his bloody marys having ordered two of them and downed them with ease. After taking a sip they turned out to be delightfully spicy and just thinking about them now is making me want one. It's a bizarre urge... I feel like squishing an overly ripe tomato all over my face whilst simultaneously choking down a half cup of cayenne pepper. All the while giving your mother the beating of her life with freshly cut celery stalks. The strange thing is this bloody mary is served with a lime wedge not a celery stalk. She probably deserved it though.

My entree was arguably the best plate of food I'd ever eaten (until the Kobe beef at Morimoto). I had the spicy chicken with sweet potato hash and poached eggs with green chili hollandaise. The sauces smeared on the plate were bliss. I've never been a huge poached egg fan until that meal. Creamy fluffy clouds of joy. The cubes of sweet potato were perfectly tender. My only complaint was the chicken didn't have much of a presence in the dish, which was odd since it is the first ingredient in the name of the dish. I ordered both grits and home fries.

The grits were the shining star of the meal. The entire table raved over them. The south needs to learn a thing or two from Bobby Flay on how to cook grits. Wow. The hash browns were mushy, flavorless, and needed salt. Oh yeah, one thing I forgot to mention was the mango glazed bacon. Yeah, if bacon could get any better than it already is, it just did. Unfortunately my one pic of the bacon came out horribly blurry. In recompense here are some pics of the other dishes ordered at our table. While I don't remember what they were, there were nothing but rave reviews coming from our group.

The colors are fantastic aren't they?

Emack & Bolio's - This place was a nice little treat.

The Grasshopper Pie ice cream is their best seller, and for good reason, it was delightful. A friend of mine got a scoop of cookie dough ice cream in a fruity pebbles encrusted cone. Unfortunately this was another pic that came out horribly blurry but here's a pic of the cone case. See the fruity pebble one? Oh yeah, that's the money shot.

In my opinion they could serve dog pooh in that cone and it would still be good. I wish they sold the marshmallowy fruity pebble goop by the bowl, then they would have a new best seller. My malt was bursting with super malty flavor but it overpowered any flavor the ice cream was meant to provide.

Dinosaur Barbecue - Dinner - I am a barbecue skeptic since I do my own backyard smoke barbecue, so I was trying to go in with an open mind. And my mind most certainly got opened at Dinosaur. And my mouth. Repeatedly. Besides Mesa Grill's grits the other high point of the trip were the garlic chipotle wings at Dinosaur.

Wow. I have always been a die-hard fan of fried over baked/grilled but Dinosaur single-handedly turned me. The black spots of sauce were little plateaus of charred wonderment. The wings themselves looked like they were butchered from the freshly slain carcass of a massive prehistoric terror. The sauce itself captured the wonderfully delightful smoky edge of chipotle and garlic with enough punch to round out the full-bodied experience that most vintage wines would be jealous of.

Just for kicks here is a picture of the wings I made the very next weekend after being so inspired by Dinosaur Barbecue:

While they may look similar, they weren't even on the same plateau of flavor as Dinosaur. Not even close. Something in the rub conflicted with my finishing sauce. Bah!

Unfortunately, the Tres Hombres plate following the wings was barely noticed and mostly consumed due to the greasy testosterone-charged meat eating frenzy the four of us were caught up in.

The brisket was tender, the ribs and pulled pork were average. The beans were very good and were the only thing on the plate that really fired my taste buds after the wings. They presented a blend of spices that none of us could pinpoint and were very satisfying. The mac and cheese was thankfully hot and creamy in the middle, but nothing to mention otherwise.

Europa Cafe - Breakfast - We stopped here while waiting for our bus to depart from Penn Station.

I ordered a swiss hot chocolate that murdered anything you can get in a packet. My rice pudding was good but a little bland. It could've used a sprinkle of cinnamon on top, which may have been at the condiment bar, I neglected to look.

And finally, the key lime bar was a super-creamy neon green gelatinous block. Terrific.

I miss NYC. I am currently planning another trip up there sometime in November. I don't think I could ever live there permanently, but I would love to move up there and eat for a few years.

Mesa Grill on Urbanspoon

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

Nerd-themed beverages!

I had to post about this. My favorite food blog Serious Eats posted about recently released D&D-themed Jones soda. I couldn't believe my eyes. As you may or may not know I play D&D every week with a zany group down in Little Italy. As soon as I saw this post I promptly ordered my 18-pack to taste and display in my home.

Another thing I found on SE and wanted to post about was this 8-bit video game themed winery. This also made me do a double take. I love wine and video games but I have yet to order a bottle. Pop culture is starting to get the drift of what I've been saying for years. Video games are the best thing to ever happen to mankind. Besides barbecue... and beer.

Later on today I have my first post in a series I call retro.spec. It's a great little piece. Stay tuned...

14 September 2009

The City of Brotherly Dry-Humping pt. 3

The fifth course was lobster. I don't really like lobster. It was an eight spice rubbed lobster served with a citrus creme fraiche and fresh veggies.

This lobster reminded me of when Andy and I went to the Titans Ravens game last October. We tailgate with this guy who used to be an executive chef. He made some amazing jerk lobster tails and this tasted exactly like that. The problem here is later that day I proceeded to projectile vomit all over M&T Bank Stadium. Whether this was due to some bizarre reaction to the food we ate or the beer I had consumed (I only had seven so I'm almost positive it had something to do with the food) needless to say this flavor memory didn't bring to mind happy thoughts. Actually quite the opposite.

The sixth course was seared kobe beef with grilled abalone mushroom accented with a sweet soy reduction basil oil. Yes, this is the course I had mentioned in my previous post. This kobe beef was the best plate of food I have ever eaten. Unfortunately I don't have a great picture of it, but here it is nonetheless:

I took a bite, chewed and swallowed and then took a sip of wine and once the flavors married a completely uncontrollable sensation overtook my body and my eyes teared up. This dish was so good it made my eyes tear up. That has never happened to me. I wasn't really sure how to react to that. The immaculately seared edge coupled with the buttery center left me at a loss for words. There are most certainly dishes that make my eyes roll back and a primitive moan escape from my throat, but this brought on tears, and that's never happened. I'm sorry if you're reading this Paul but this beef is on another level than the porterhouse we had at Peter Luger's earlier this year. Please don't hate me, I love you man. I've never been a huge beef guy either. If I were going to go splooge on a meal I would usually go sushi over steakhouse. This course has shown me the light and that light is from the black Tajima-ushi breed of Wagyu cattle, raised according to strict tradition in Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan (thank you wikipedia).

I'll be honest, I barely remember our seventh course. It was a chef's selection of sushi. We started at the right end and ate our way to the toro at the end.

I will say this though, that piece of toro was the best piece of sushi I've ever eaten. Talk about melt in your mouth. I could put that fatty tuna down by the pound. I think that rounds out my night of bests. Best fish, best meat, best roll, best sushi, and best overall dish all at one table. And I didn't pay a dime for any of it! Whoever invented the bachelor party is a friggin genious.

Our eighth and final course was dessert. We were served a bittersweet chocolate torte with caramel corn mousse and blueberry sauce.

The torte was great. Along with the port wine beverage pairing it invoked the taste of chocolate covered cherries which was very nice. The blueberry sauce didn't really do anything for me. I honestly don't remember tasting it. The mousse was the shining star of this dish. It tasted exactly like caramel popcorn. I have no idea how they got that flavor into a mousse and I don't care. The could've served me a big bowl of that and I would've been happy as a clam.

Our night of gluttony had finally come to an end. I have to give a shout out to our server because she was amazing. Here is Alix in all her majesty:

To round out this experience I can't resist posting a pic of our final bill.

But don't worry, we took care of Alix with a little something extra. I made sure of that.

After our feast of feasts we headed back to the hotel room to regroup and decide where the evening was going to take us. Chris M. wasn’t feeling too hot after him and Andy split three carafes of sake.

No one cared what we did and they all looked to me since I was the bachelor. I was in the mindset that we should go wherever we’ll have the most fun, be it bar or strip-club. So I put it to a vote and the result was tied. At this point Zack made the statement “We can go to a bar and drink or we can go to a strip-club and drink and look at boobs”. Our decision had been made. I remembered hearing about two good places in Philly: Delilah’s which had a walk-in humidor and was part steakhouse and Club Risque which was huge and had a pretty good selection of women. Since the thought of combining rare meat and nude chicks made me queasy and I’m not a fan of smoke, we chose the latter. We phoned the front desk and requested two cabs. Phase two of our evening was about to begin.

Our evening at Club Risque was fun. I didn’t really care about going to a strip-club for my bachelor party but I was glad I did. They had a main stage with two poles and then tables all around the outside wall with 4 poles spread throughout. All of the tables were full so we spoke with the guy who oversaw the seating. He informed us we had to buy a bottle of alcohol to sit at the tables which had a price-tag of $200. I thought this was pretty absurd so while a few of my buddies talked with him we went over to the bar and ordered a round of drinks. The selection was pretty bad so I went with a Mich Ultra. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking but it’s honestly not too bad. At least it’s not as bad as that MGD 64 crap. You might as well be drinking seltzer water. After acquiring beverages we were standing around taking it all in while negotiations for a table were being made. Eventually a few patrons left who had the table right behind where we were standing and we were given their spot without having to buy the bottle. That was awesome. I think my brother was telling the guy that we’re a bachelor party and we would be spending just as much as the bottle price on the women and ordering drinks from the waitress on top of that. A few of the guys were up front still talking to a few employees and the DJ, I figured they were still discussing our little arrangement. I ordered a blue moon since they were on happy hour. Girls are walking by all the time fishing for lapdances and tips. The first outer pole was right next to us so we got to see each girl go by. Over the entire evening we only saw two girls perform twice on the main stage, that’s how many girls they had working. It had to be at least 30.

The next thing I know the DJ speaks up over the music “Is a Mr. Kyle Harris in the house? We’re looking for Kyle Harris.” A chill runs up through my body, oh hell what have they got in store for me. Of course my entire entourage was cheering and forcing me up out of my seat. I raise my hand and confirm my doom. All of a sudden 10 people with headsets appeared telling me where to go and what to do. I made my way around the back of the bar and up onto the stage where they have a chair waiting with the two hottest strippers in the club. They tell me to sit down and keep my hands behind my back. Kick Start My Heart is blasting over the speakers and the first thing I hear out of one girls mouth is: I want to do a handstand on him. I’ll spare you the details, but for about 3 minutes my body was a human playground… complete with seesaw. They thoroughly roasted me throughout the ordeal, making fun of my weight and how pale I am and bringing up embarrassing memories from my childhood. Apparently my friends think I’m a perfume tester, which isn't even close to what I actually do. I found that a little strange because I work with Chris D. and he knows exactly what I do. But anyway, this experience was amazing and way too over-stimulating. Between listening to the DJ tear me apart and watching the priceless expressions of utter glee on my posse’s faces, the dance was over in a flash. They gave me a t-shirt that was size XLT--extra-large tall--which fit me like a smock and sent me on my happy way. Throughout the rest of the evening I also got a massage from a girl and I got the one and only lap dance of my life from the girl who did the handstand on me. Something about that made me want to get to know her better...

We drank a lot. A few beers and a few more shots of tequila and we were all feeling pretty good. After we had seen our fill we called it a night around 1:30. Strangely the cab ride back to the hotel cost a few bucks more than the one to the strip club. Damn cabbies taking advantage of drunkards! Some members of our party retired to the rooms while the rest of us expressed the need for late night munchies. I have no idea how this was possible since we had stuffed our faces at dinner, but even thought I was still stuffed I went along because I didn’t want the night to end. The front desk mentioned a pizza place a few blocks away so away we went. Now I have to stress that I was feeling pretty good at the time and as a general rule I try not to stare or take in too much of my surroundings in a bizarre atmosphere, so a lot of this information I got secondhand the next morning. Apparently the block where this pizza joint was located was the center of the alternative lifestyle clique of Philadelphia. I should’ve noticed something was amiss when my dad pointed out a male mermaid statue at a store called Philadelphia Home And Garden. Note the acronym. Yeah, this whole block was like that. I didn’t take any pictures since my camera was up in the hotel room but I wish I had. I have no idea what the pizza place was called, but another thing I failed to notice was that the pizza boxes had a nude man on them holding a pizza box over his tender bits. Also, most of the pizzas were topped with some sort of white sauce. Coincidence? Dear lord, I hope so. The most memorable moment of the night was when we were discussing something about stuffed crust and I jumped on the opportunity to throw out a “That’s what she said.” when a skinny flamboyant white guy with a very impressive afro turned around and said to me “That’s what he said!” That became the punch-line throughout the rest of the trip. George was really drunk so he doused his plain cheese slice with garlic powder and took a few bites and handed me the slice and said in a slightly slurred grease-faced manner “Dude, try this.” I took a bite and realized that his tastebuds must’ve been severely subdued because this slice was so overloaded with garlic that it created an almost crunchy texture. I thanked him and breathed garlic death for the rest of the night. While we were standing on the street satiating the need for late night munchies a throwdown she-man slap fight almost started behind us. I think it may have involved an actual real live girl. We had had enough. We stumbled back to the rooms and divied them up and passed out.

I arose feeling pretty nauseous. As my usual routine I downed a few tums and ibuprofen and drank a tall glass of water and went back to sleep. When I awoke again I felt right as rain. We cleaned up and got all of our stuff together. I made 11:30 reservations for brunch at Day by Day. We had the desk call two cabs and waited outside. We waited and watched as sky as black as death acsended upon us:

That pic was taken at 11:21am. Yeah, it was a monsoon. We hailed cabs and made our way to brunch at Day by Day.

I chose Day by Day after much searching on Yelp.com. I'm glad I chose it, it turned out to be a fantastic meal. I ordered a basket of baked goodies to start (sorry for the off-center pic):

I had the muffin there in the foreground on the left. It was like peach cobbler in muffin form. The only flaw, which was quite major, is that the outside of the muffin completely stuck to the paper which limited me to only eating the center. Boo. I really wanted to order the potato pancake eggs benedict which was the best of both of my worlds but I couldn't deny my breakfast sweet tooth. I asked our waiter (who kinda sucked) what the best sweet brunch item was and without hesitation he recommended the challah french toast. I figured go big or go home so I ended up ordering the french toast and the potato pancakes that George promised he would split with me. He also ordered the french toast. It was stuffed with cream cheese infused with local cherries and lemon zest.

It was a mammoth-sized portion even for me. Three slices of stuffed french toast, so six pieces of french toast total since a stuffed slice is two slices with the fillwing squished between. Now, as you may have realized by reading this blog I like to rank my food experiences. I rank everything and can tell you the best example of almost any dish I've had to date. French toast unfortunately doesn't fall into that category. While I can't say this was the best I've had because I honestly don't know, it was most certainly up there. I think Neptune Room in the Upper West Side may have it beat, but not by much. It wasn't too sweet. The fresh cherries were the best single component of the dish, but what brought the flavors all together into one harmonious note was the lemon zest. It was a perfect little zing at the end of the bite. Fantastic. Here's another picture of it after slicing up a few pieces:

The potato pancakes were good but nothing to rave about. I didn't even touch the fresh preserves that came with them as I always eat mine with a mix of apple sauce and sour cream. No complaints though, they were very good. I really appreciated the burnt bits. I live for burnt bits.

Being the gluttonous bastard that I am, not only did I finish my entire plate of stuffed french toast but I also ate 2 of the 3 potato pancakes. I am the man with the iron stomach. Although I probably should've saved room considering our next destination: Sly Fox Brewery in Royersford.

I want to keep this short because this experience turned sour very quick. The aforementioned monsoon that morning ended up flooding the Skookle, so a trip that we had estimated would take 45 minutes ended up taking two and a half hours. Add on the fact that some of our passengers were very much hung over and this made for a very unenthusiastic arrival. We had a brewery tour planned and gulldernit we were going to see it through.

I was kind of put off to find that this place was located in a strip mall. I was expecting a farm or barn or plant or something. Bah, oh well. We went inside and our tour lady had stepped out so we wandered around a bit. One major bonus was Zack and I found an original top down Ms. Pac-Man. That was pretty badass.

We finally met with our tour lady and she gave us the tour. It was a lot of stuff about making beer that I don't remember. One thing I do have to offer you is lots of pretty pictures!

Afterwards we were lead to a private room where we were served a tasting of every single beer they make. We asked for a sample of each to pass around but instead they brought every member of our party a sample of every beer. It was a lot of beer. A LOT.

I asked for a pen and paper to take notes but they were never brought to me. I'm not sure the staff serving us really appreciated our sense of humor. Either that or they just weren't very nice people. One glaring exception to this was that the tour lady procured a bottle of their Oktoberfest which they had just started brewing a few days before. It was the first bottle served to the public. She let me keep the bottle and some other little things like coasters and menus. That was pretty sweet.

Well, since I was never given anything to write with instead I made some check marks on the menu I had. I do remember that we all hated the horribly bitter concoction that was Odyssey. Why people subject themselves to drinks like that I will never understand. Again, since I have no notes on these beers I will just list what I liked: The Pikeland Pils, the Ichor, the Saison Vos, the Dunkel Weisse, and the Oktoberfest which was not on the menu yet. They brought out some menus as the members of our party that didn't eat more than any mortal man should earlier that day were starting to get hungry. Some pub pretzels were an order of crabby fries were brought out.

Gotta love my retarded dad sticking his face in my shot. The pretzels came with a ridiculously hot spicy mustard. It cleared the nasal cavities with ease. The pretzels were good though. I actually took home the leftovers. I tried the crabby fries just to say I had, they tasted like crab dip fries you can get at most upscale pub grub places around these parts. Nothing special.

Whew, I'm bushed. I had no idea it would take me three huge posts to write about that weekend. Luckily that was the last shot I took so I'm finally done. We went home after that and the weekend was concluded. I'm beat. As always, thanks for reading.

Morimoto on Urbanspoon