Happy Holidays!


El Centro Upgrade

I hadn't been to El Centro (the Hell's Kitchen offshoot on 54th and Ninth) since the summer, so I was pleasantly surprised earlier this week when I discovered their menu has received a little refresh.

While I was initially sad they'd seemed to remove all signs of molé (I'd wanted the pork chilaquiles, which--if I remember correctly--were in molé), I was happy to have been "forced" into another choice: the steak chilaquiles. When they arrived, rather than being in its usual little crock-like dish, it was beautifully arranged on a large plate. There was way less sauce, which made the chilaquiles wonderfully textured rather than soggy, and the steak was amazing--super rare, smokily-seared, and tasty. The flavors were so fresh and well-balanced, I didn't even have the desire to ask for extra hot sauce, which rarely happens.

With all of the new Mexican joints popping up in the neighborhood, this is one smart move by chef Jorge Pareja. I'm curious to see what else they've done.

El Centro, 824 Ninth Avenue at 54th Street.


The Truffle Oil Diaries: Bacon & Goat Cheese Pasta

Oh yeah, people, I took it up a notch! Last night, when I realized I was entirely over the extreme cold and holiday crazy time, I decided I needed some sort of treat. I remembered I had a little bacon in the freezer...and realized it would be fantastic with goat cheese and truffle oil. So, I went to town.

For a portion of hot pasta, I threw in a little browned bacon (about 2 slices worth, or about 1/4 cup of lardons) and tossed everything with a tiny bit of olive oil. Onto my plate it went, with about 2 tablespoons crumbled goat cheese, a generous amount of freshly-grated Parmesan, some Maldon salt, pepper, and a nice drizzle of truffle oil.

And lo, it was really, really good. I may have to eat this every night in order to survive the next few weeks...

I Love Dollar Stores...

...because they're often a repository of oddball imports. I spied this pack of Brazilian Oreo-inspired wafers at the new 99-cent store by my place. Somehow I think the product name wouldn't fly in the States...


Paul McCartney & Jimmy Fallon Sing the Original "Yesterday" Lyrics

This clip from last night's Late Night with Jimmy Fallon just totally made my day...

I Must Spend More Time Exploring Eldridge Street

Frankly, I need to spend more time wandering around the Lower East Side. There are so many old-school holdouts I've never noticed, and I'll need to get to them before gentrification pushes them out!

Who's up for breakfast at the Cup & Saucer Luncheonette (at the corner of Eldridge and Canal)?


Trying to Fix the Cursed Corner

Earlier this fall I posted this photo of what I called the "cursed corner" on 23rd and Tenth Avenue, where numerous restaurants have mysteriously failed. Apparently, the location's newest tenant, New York Burger Company, thinks it's a troubled spot, too, so they hired a variety of clergy to bless the space! Check out the story in today's New York Times.


Vintage Subway!

When does the MTA ever make a person's day? Well, it made mine when I accidentally happened upon the holiday vintage special. Off to run errands on the Lower East Side, I was unusually lazy this morning and took the train to First Avenue. When I alighted, I spied the vintage train on the uptown platform and went over to take a look. Told it would be back for another trip in an hour-and-a-half, I ran my errands and returned in time to make the journey up Sixth to Queens Plaza and back.

According to one of the MTA guys with whom I chatted, the cars on the train were built between 1931 and 1947. Some were kind of plain, a few were exquisite, and others unexpected, but all of them were truly amazing. 

Apparently, it's tough-going to get the powers that be to run this special December train. I hope the MTA is smart enough to continue to do this, though, because in this era of continuous fare hikes and service reductions, I've never seen happier customers. Everyone was smiling, chatting, exploring, and having a good time experiencing a bit of our wonderful city's history.

Bring back the green! Chrome is fab, but I kind of dig this color.

In the 1931 car.

The conductor yells his "Stand clear of the closing doors" from between cars.

Why aren't our subway cars this artfully beautiful today?
In the age before air-conditioning, the doors between cars were left open.

Surprisingly, I was told this super-modern car was from the 1930s!
The ceiling vents in the 1931 car.
The old ads were a great touch, too.

"So little more time" ??

I think the MTA should revive this classic ad...

This year, the vintage trains will run Sundays until December 26, from 10am to 4pm. The timetable is on the MTA's website.


Who's Going To Buy Me An Apartment With Rooftop Access?

...so I can plant a groovy-cool space garden like this? I promise I would regularly have you over for dinner! (Check out Grub Street's post on Bell Book & Candle here).

Bell Book & Candle rooftop garden photo by Danny Kim, from Grub Street/New York Magazine.


Truly Cheap Eats: The Tuck Shop

I was truly sad about the closing of the Chelsea Market People's Pops stand (read their farewell letter here, though it's not entirely clear to me that they're gone forever? And some of their signs are still up...). But yesterday, when I checked out the replacement, the Australian meat pie joint Tuck Shop (which has two locations in the East Village), my sadness abated...quite a lot.

The menu looks great (the Thai Green Chook Chili and Guinness Mushroom pies look particularly appetizing) and the vast majority of things are under $6. As I was just there for a late-afternoon snack, I decided to try the Pork and Sage Sausage Roll ($3.50), and--lucky for me--a batch of them had just come out of the oven. I think it may be one of the best of the kind, and well worth the dietary splurge: the pastry's really flaky (they must use lard for the dough), and the filling was incredibly flavorful and satisfying. Frankly, it's really bad that I know these tubes of goodness exist--at $3.50, this cheap eat is officially one of the top things on my go-to list. I'll definitely have to go back for a pie sometime very soon.

(Amusing side note: This meat-centric stand is across from the vegan shop One Lucky Duck. Talk about opposite ends of the spectrum! Might there be a carnivore vs. herbivore smackdown in the future? I hope so!)

If People's Pops does come back, perhaps the two business could do a joint meat/pop thing? Pies on a stick? Pops in a pie? Oh, the possibilities...

Tuck Shop @ Chelsea Market: 75 Ninth Avenue, the stand is in the middle of the market, at the newish 15th Street Entrance. Tuck Shop in the East Village: 115 St. Marks Place & 68 East First Street.


The Truffle Oil Diaries: Potage Parmentier

The best thing about the return of the chilly weather to our fair metropolis is the ability to start making soup again (even though I have air conditioning, the thought of making a bubbling pot of something when it's not below 60 outside makes me a little faint). After spying some beautiful leeks at my market, I decided it was time for the first batch of leek and potato soup (check out my recipe here).

And what did I drizzle on top? Truffle oil.

Yup, it was good. It made me want to expand the flavors in the soup for next time, too. Perhaps stir in some frizzled lardons after puréeing? Or some really deep other mushroomy flavor? Oh, the possibilities...


Hot Peppah Jelly 2010

Thanks to the extra-super-long Thanksgiving weekend, the first teeny-tiny batch of KK & Nanita's Hot Peppah Jelly has finally made its appearance! Thanks to a perfect hot pepper–growing summer, the 2010 batch is some crazy, intense stuff. More is on the way in the following weeks, so if you're looking for the perfect holiday gift, contact us!


Where Does This Sheep Meadow Manhole Cover Go?

I've crisscrossed Central Park's Sheep Meadow countless times, but never before noticed this manhole smack-dab in the middle of it. Where does it go? Is it a magical portal to another part of town? The door to another level of the park? Access to some kind of secret late–nineteenth century mechanical system that feeds the grass?



Pic O' The Week

It's been a wild and crazy week, so I'm finally getting around to posting this photo from last Sunday's gathering in Fort Tryon Park to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Fort Washington in 1776. I'm especially proud to have captured the smoking guns, and I also wonder...what's so intriguing to our brave soldier on the right? 


This Weekend in NYC: The Quidditch World Cup

One of the best things about New York City is that the world eventually comes to us. This weekend's arrival: the Quidditch World Cup. I'd read a few articles about how the fictional Harry Potter sport has become an actual thing happening on university campuses. I couldn't decide if it was a good idea or a jump-the-shark moment, so as the QWC was basically in my neighborhood, I decided to go check out what the heck these kids were up to. The answer? Having a good ol' geektastic time. (Though I still can't figure out how they aren't in an enormous amount of pain from running around with broomsticks between their legs...)

It's actually a contact sport--there was a good amount of tackling going on.
And therefore a first-aid tent.

A snitch is captured...
...while another taunts the crowd.


A Video Interlude

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Martha Stewart
Colbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionMarch to Keep Fear Alive

My apologies for being so quiet lately--I've been busy working on someone else's cooking project. I'll be back in to normal in a few days, but in the meantime, I thought I'd tide you over with this hilarious clip of Martha Stewart and Stephen Colbert from last night's The Colbert Report.


Branching Out @ Bánh Mì Saigon

As many of you know, I'm a huge fan of Bánh Mì Saigon's yummy--and cheap--pork sandwich, and every time I go in, I'm drawn back to its spicy, flavorful goodness. But in the interest of trying new things, I've finally branched out.

I pondered the menu and almost chose the paté option, but I ended up going with the meatball bánh mì ($4), figuring I'd leap into the world of mystery meat. I'd imagined the meatballs would be some sort of Vietnamese-inspired something, but instead, they seemed to reflect the Asian/Italian fusion going on in that neighborhood (Bánh Mì Saigon's new location is at the crossroads of Little Italy and Chinatown on Grand Street between Mulberry and Mott). The meatball recipe seemed to be traditionally Western, and matched with some sort of cooked tomato, layer #1 was very reminiscent of an Italian-style sub. Topped with the traditional Vietnamese veggies, it was one heck of a crazy combo, and while it was OK, I'm not sure I was a fan. It was a kind of flavor confusion that never really won me over...

The best part, though, was that for whatever reason, the bread was fresh and warm. It's always good at Bánh Mì Saigon, but on that particular day, I truly lucked out.

Bánh Mì Saigon, 138 Grand Street between Mulberry and Mott.


Coney Island Favorites Get The Boot

In addition to the wonderfully disturbing Shoot the Freak (the demise of which I tweeted about yesterday), 8 other longtime establishments have lost their Coney Island Boardwalk leases. According to The New York Times, the beautifully retro food stand Paul's Daughter (pictured above) is out. Founded 41 years ago, many of you might remember it as the former home of the Astroland rocket, which lived on top until the amusement park closed in 2008. Also gone is one of NYC's diviest dive bars: Ruby's. It was truly skanky, but I had a couple of beers there once, and I loved its old-school boardwalk vibe.

The freak takes a break.
Paul's Daughter in 2007.


The Truffle Oil Diaries: Sautéed Potatoes

Researching creative ways to use truffle oil, I have discovered that, apparently, its aromatic wonderfulness doesn't last for very long. Time to get crackin'!

Craving a truly satisfying potato moment, I decided to approximate something similar to the truffled French fries that have been showing up on menus around town. I cut up a potato, tossed the slices with a tablespoon of olive oil and some kosher salt, and threw them into my handy-dandy cast iron skillet. I slowly browned them over medium-low heat, turning every so often, until they were fairly brown and a little crunchy. Before serving, I tossed them with a generous drizzle of truffle oil.

I was content. So, as far as the Truffle Oil Diaries go, while it's not the most spectacular way to get one's truffle fix, this idea's a super-easy keeper.


Revisiting Marie's Crisis Café

The WPA mural behind the bar at Marie's Crisis Café depicts the French and American revolutions.
It's been a few years since I've stopped by Marie's Crisis Café, known by many as one of the best places in NYC to sing along with your favorite show tunes. A friend of a friend was visiting from Liverpool, and she wanted to check out an open mic or karaoke spot. As we were nearby, we decided to pop in to the famous piano bar. I'd only been a few times before--usually on busy nights when the place is jammed--and an entertaining, song-filled three-and-a-half hours proceeded to fly by!

I'd never checked out the history of the place, and after doing a brief search, I'm kind of gobsmacked at how cool the location is. For years, I've known the place as merely "the gay piano bar near Sheridan Square where you sing show tunes" and just figured it was in another Greenwich Village building, but its history is fairly complex. The current structure, from the 1850s, replaced another in which Thomas Paine died (hence "Crisis," reflecting his Crisis Papers). The room was originally a prostitutes' den, became a boy bar in the 1890s, survived Prohibition, and has been in its current piano bar state for more than 35 years. Even more fascinating is the WPA mural behind the bar--nobody seems to know how it got there.

I'd forgotten how fun Marie's Crisis Café can be. So, if you're in the mood for a sing-along or need a Broadway fix on the cheap (the drink prices are low!), head on down to Grove Street.

Marie's Crisis Café, 59 Grove Street just west of Seventh Avenue.


Pickled Shrimp, Take Two

I've consumed the rest of the pickled shrimp I picked up from An Choi's stand at the Grub Street Food Festival (I have no idea how long pickled seafood lasts, so I thought it was a good idea to eat it all fairly quickly). My happiest use for it, I think, was in a version of a Vietnamese style cold noodle salad (a.k.a. bun). I tossed some lettuce with olive oil (it's all I had!), a little lime juice, and some of pickled green mango and dried chili flakes with salt I'd bought with the shrimp. I put everything in a bowl, topped it with a handful of cooked, rinsed noodles I'd tossed with a little more oil, soy sauce, and lime juice, and finished the dish with a few of the pickled shrimp.

(And you must be wondering, "Why are the noodles black?!" They are black bean noodles that someone gave to me after finding them lame. I gave them a shot, but must concur--they're terrible! Really, health food people, do you really think this crap is a good idea? And who thinks this is good? Eek.)


Pickled Shrimp!

I am in love with the pickled shrimp I picked up at An Choi's stand at Saturday's Grub Street Food Festival. I threw a few in a salad, and wow, these babies kick some major ass. They're rich and flavorful--I sense a wonderful ginger zing in there--and perfectly spicy. I think I'm going to have to visit the restaurant and beg them to sell me some more! Or twist their arm for the recipe...


Blast from the Past: Scrapple

Many many years ago, when I was but a wee thing growing up in the rolling hills of Pennsyltucky, I used to eat scrapple. This Pennsylvania Dutch creation was a foreign thing to my family (my parents are from Connecticut and my mom, who does a vast majority of the cooking, is of Sicilian stock), but we often had lots of it, generously given to us by my dad's parishioners. My mom would broil thin slices of the stuff until crisp, and I would grab the honey bear and drizzle some sticky goodness all over it. I loved the salty sweet crunchiness, and was happy to dig in.

Then, when I was 12 or so, I found out what was in it. To put it nicely, scrapple is made from leftover pork bits, plus a little filler. The childhood me immediately conjured up images of puréed eyeballs and bones and the like, so Scrapple landed on my "absolutely will not eat" list.

I've been wanting to try scrapple again, but it hasn't been on the priority list during my not-so-frequent family visits. So, when I spied it on a list of offerings at the Union Square Greenmarket, I bought a pound.

My broiler is kind of a pain in the ass (tucked away at the bottom of my tiny oven), so I decided to grab my good ol' cast iron skillet to cook some up (which is, I believe, the traditional method). I cut a few thin slices from the block--thinner than the suggested 1/4 inch--and sautéed them over medium-low heat until both sides were brown and crisp. I drizzled a tiny bit of honey on each slice, and then revisited a long-lost taste memory.

Scrapple's actually pretty good. On its own, it's not so interesting, but adding a little something sweet brings out the flavors of the added spices--especially the black pepper. So, as I say to others when discussing the Scottish traditional Haggis (which is much weirder, given the cooking method), don't be afraid and give it a try!


The Cursed Corner

I think this space, on the southeast corner of 23rd Street and 10th Avenue, is cursed. I've been a regular in this part of town for 15 years, and sadly, whatever opens here never lasts (and I think it's been empty more than it's been occupied). Looks like someone's opening a burger joint in the space...I guess we'll see if it lasts!


Decadent Artichoke Pizza @ Artichoke Basilles

I'd heard the hype, and I've finally tried the pie: I was wandering The High Line with some friends, and we decided to have dinner at the new location of Artichoke Basilles Pizzeria & Bar (on 17th Street and 10th Ave., in the old Red Rock Saloon West biker bar space). Yup, it was worth the hype.

We weren't sure which direction to take (there were numerous interesting possibilities), or how much we needed (there were four of us, but how hearty were these pizzas?), so we opted for one pizza and a starter. After much deliberation (and me nixing the meatball pizza option) we went for what I thought was the most fascinating option: artichoke with spinach, cream sauce, and cheese. I suggested we order the meatballs as the starter, which seemed like it would balance things out nicely.

The meatballs came first, and everything was nice and garlicky. The sauce was fresh, and the meatballs themselves were flavorful (Cathy thought there was a little pork in there, which seemed about right to me). I rethought...I'd happily order a meatball pie in the future.

And then the pizza arrived...and it was really, really good (and really, really big). Honestly, with all of the buzz, I was expecting Artichoke Basilles to be yet another wood oven place (I think Hell's Kitchen may soon have more pizzerias than Thai restaurants) that serves up an Italian-style light, thin-crust pie. But Artichoke's serves up something that's more New York–style, with a sort of nod to Arturo's and a modern twist. The pies are cooked in a typical electric (or gas?) pizza oven, and the dough is thick and heavy (practically deep dish), pleasantly crunchy, and flavorful. The toppings on our artichoke version were wonderfully decadent, and it was so rich, each of us only ate a slice and a half (I'm usually a two-slice girl, but I think one of these would do me!). When you're stuffed, but wish you could eat more, that's some tasty pizza pie.

While it seems to be a bit expensive it's actually not--unless you have a bottomless stomach. In my opinion, one of these pies goes much further than the typical, and I think this pizza's eight slices would satisfy six to eight people. So, I need seven people to join me the next time. Who's in?

Artichoke Basilles Pizzeria & Bar, 10th Avenue @ 17th Street. Original location 328 E. 14th Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenues.


Brunch @ The Grub Street Food Festival

Always happy to peruse a food festival, I was super-excited for New York magazine's Grub Street Food Festival, which took over the Hester Street Fair yesterday. Accompanied by my friend and KKNY fan Cathy--who was in town visiting from glorious Pennsyltucky--we hit the fair bright and early...a good idea, as numerous comments on the Grub Street blog complained about the overcrowded conditions in the afternoon.
I resisted Sigmund Pretzelshop's mini cheddar/truffle pretzels, but I tried a bite of Cathy's plain salted version, and it was beautifully fluffy and flavorful--especially with the beet-infused horseradish sauce.
La Sonrisa's pork empanada. I love my empanadas, and this puppy was one of the fresh and tastiest I've had. Cathy picked up some of their cucumber lemonade--what a great idea!
Goodies from the Macaron Parlour. Cathy went for a caramel apple (the red one), and I went for the bacon maple (He gave me two because one was broken. Score!). The bacon was yummy, but overall it was little too sweet for my taste. I'll try the Thai chili next time around...
Skim Kim's Goguma Shepherd's pie. Who'd a thunk kimchi in that traditional British dish would be so awesome?
I talked Cathy into a waffle and spekuloos spread from Wafels & Dinges, and she was glad she'd listened!
I never made it back to the Melt Bakery's stand for one of its newly-invented fried pumpkin pies. Next time...
All filled up, I picked up some of AnChoi's pickles to take home: the brightly wonderful green mango and the surprisingly spectacular picked shrimp (who knew?!).