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?!).


The Truffle Oil Diaries

I finally did it. I broke down and bought a bottle of truffle oil. I've been obsessing about the black and white beauties for years, professing my endearing love for this divine aroma that, for me, beats good chocolate by a mile. Truffles are one of the most fabulous things Mother Earth gives us, but unfortunately I'm not rich, so my experiences with them are few and far between.

I've talked myself out of buying truffle oil--the most affordable version of the things--for years. I've heard that many brands use chemicals to create a fake version of awesome, and I'd also convinced myself that having it in my pantry would somehow make it less special.

But upon entering The Filling Station at Chelsea Market the other day, I decided to take the plunge. I somehow trusted the legitimacy of their claim, so there didn't seem to be much risk in picking up one of their tiny, affordable bottles. I went for the white truffle oil, as its aroma was somehow more pleasing to me than the black, which is what I'm used to. (Of course I'd love the harder-to-get variety!)

Today I Begin The Truffle Diaries.

So far I've sprinkled a few drops into a salad (yum!), and tried a tiny bit in some simple cheese tortellini soup (not as amazing as I'd hoped). It's time for me to do some research so I can really learn how to use the stuff to its most potent effect. I'll keep you posted!

OK, Wow...

Just had to share this one: Photographer Jay Fine captured this gorgeous shot of the Statue of Liberty being struck by lightning. Check out the article here.


A Fabulous Feast @ Asana

Congrats to the newly-hitched Jimmy and Dan, whose two-week long celebration just wrapped up this weekend. They were kind enough to invite me to take part in the Boston leg of the wedding, which included a spectacular meal designed by Chef Nathan Rich and Pastry Chef Nelson Paz at Restaurant Asana at the Mandarin Oriental Boston. We took over a private room with a view of the kitchen for a few hours...and ate more than I've ever eaten before! By popular demand, I'm finally sharing some of my pix.

The vegetable tempura amuse-bouche.
The extra-super creamy butternut squash soup with a vanilla apple fritter.
Yellowfin tuna tartare with macadamia powder, ginger crisps, and shiso.
Homemade potato Gnocchi with a roasted tomato purée, basil, and shaved Parmesan.
Wagyu beef with Yukon potato purée, mulato chili, smoked fleur de sel, wild mushrooms, and asparagus.
Sweets construction.
Dessert #1. The chocolate was divine, but my favorite thing was the lemon chip. (And woohoo--Chef Paz gave me the recipe!)
Cake deconstruction.
Dessert #2: the yuzu-tastic cake.


Tea @ The House of Waris

I've just returned from treating myself to a fabulous pot of tea underneath The High Line at the House of Waris's pop up shop and tea room. Part of the Building Fashion at HL23 project, this collaboration between designer, actor, philanthropist, and book editor Waris Ahluwalia (you've probably spotted him in Wes Anderson's films) and architectural designer Christian Wassmann is a fabulous little place that, sadly, is only open until October 17th. It opened yesterday and was still under construction when I was there, but I'll be bugging friends to join me next week for a spot of Waris's specially-selected tea (I had the best chai I've ever had). The shop also includes his fabulous jewelry, scarves, and some of his other little favorite things (nudge nudge: if anyone's looking for a Christmas prezzy for me, pop on by the House of Waris!).

They were filling the reflecting pool as I left...
A view inside the shop.
The House of Waris Tea Room is on 24th Street west of 10th Avenue, right underneath The High Line.


Evil Brekky

For whatever mysterious reason I've been craving ricotta cheese (perhaps it's my Sicilian blood reacting to the autumnal weather outside?). I've been having a little with honey from time to time, but the other day I realized I desperately needed some kind of figgy goodness in my life. So, I mixed a little fig conserve with a spoonful of ricotta, slathered it on a slice of bread, and ended up with one of the most satisfying yet evil little breakfasts ever.

I think I'm addicted...


Animation Inspiration

I've been telling my peeps that one of my goals for this autumn/winter is to cook a rabbit. I was going to go for a recipe I spied in From Julia Child's Kitchen, but perhaps I should make Looney Tunes–inspired hassenpfeffer?


Abandoned NYC: South Edgemere

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I've been doing more NYC research and am discovering some fascinating places, some of which--perfect for Halloween season--are abandoned! Who knew our crowded metropolis had so many acres of forgotten land?

Today's find is South Edgemere in the Rockaways (way out in Queens, past JFK airport). A century ago it was a seaside playground, but now it's completely abandoned (see the large green patch in the lower part of the above map? That's it...). I'd totally go for an adventure there, but the packs of wild dogs put it pretty much at the bottom of the list of places I'd like to go...

Check out Nathan Kensinger's cool article/photos for more.