The Evolution Of The Rat

I love how the inflatable union rats continue to get better and more creative. This one's my new favorite: tuxedo, moneybags, and extra spindly whiskers! If only they'd set him up a little closer to the Scientology building, all would have been perfect...


Once Again, The Sicilian Blood Speaks?

From time to time, I wonder if my ancestral bloodlines really create who I am...and what I crave. After I discovered a potential root for my Moro blood orange passion (it's a variety that was developed in my family's state in Sicily), I'm beginning to think my half-Sicilian blood seems to control much of my appetite.

A month or so ago, my friends Steve and Lara came over for dinner bearing some of the goodies they brought back from their recent trip to Italy. Along with wild boar salami and Pecorino with black truffle from Tuscany (YUM!), they had a jar of bottarga powder (dried mullet or tuna roe) from Sardinia. We made some pasta, sprinkled a bit on...and I was completely hooked. It's kind of crazy stuff. The aroma is almost too fishy, but the flavor--for whatever reason--is completely different: slightly briny, lots of umami.

This weekend, I found myself craving more bottarga. I just couldn't get it out of my mind. So I went to Buon Italia in Chelsea Market and picked up a tiny jar. When a French guy next to me noticed me pondering the purchase, he said, "That stuff is amazing--I ate it all the time growing up in France!" I realized...this was something beyond Sardinia. So, I looked it up.

Apparently, it's big all over the Mediterranean, but especially in Sardinia and Sicily. So, here we go again. Why would I crave something so desperately that I'd only had once?

Is it in my blood?


I Never Noticed...

I never noticed the Blue Water Grill's home on Union Square West is the former Bank of the Metropolis. I guess Superman couldn't quite get there in time to save it...


On The Calendar For Next Year: McSorley's Day

Sorry everyone...I missed a very important NYC holiday! Found out this morning (through various blogs like EV Grieve) that February 17th is McSorley's Day! Claimed by many to be the oldest continuously operating bar in the city (they apparently served "near" beer during Prohibition that was more beer than "near"), McSorley's Old Ale House is one of my favorite wintertime spots: good beer, potbelly stove, sawdust on the floor, seriously dusty old gas lanterns, and a generally entertaining crowd.

So, get on over there this weekend--perhaps there's a little bit of 157 year-old birthday cake left!

McSorley's Old Ale House, 15 East 7th Street, just east of Cooper Square. Photo from McSorley's website.


Sign O' The Day: Classy Rules

As seen on the oft-forgotten Weehawken Street in the West Village. I love how they've made the request so classy!


As The Lunar New Year Wraps Up

As the Lunar New Year comes to a close, I thought I'd share one final photo from my holiday Chinatown excursions. I believe this store, on Doyers Street, is where I purchased a pack of chopsticks when I visited New York when I was 6. I vividly remember pondering everything in the shop, and, when I realized I was determined to learn how to eat with chopsticks, I used my tiny amount of money to purchase a beautiful--yet inexpensive--set.

My self-tutelage was successful, but I wonder what happened to the chopsticks?

Also, I wonder why they've left their Year of the Tiger decorations in the window? Not rabbit fans?


Sign O' The Day: Missed Corrections

Thanks to Ken Smith for bringing this one to my attention: A year ago, I'd posted a photo of the "Frank Steak" available for purchase at Deluxe Food Market in Chinatown (which Jimmy and I call "Wok Through," as it has entrances on both Elizabeth and Mott streets, and is excellent for both shopping and short cuts). Ken told me that someone had told the managers about the misspelling...but alas, they still haven't managed to get it quite right...

Deluxe Food Market's official address is 79 Elizabeth Street between Hester and Grand, but you can enter at the same point on Mott Street.


Truly Cheap Eats: And She Called It "Everything Ball"

While wandering Chinatown during the Lunar New Year parade on Sunday, I made an awesome discovery. I call it "Everything Ball."

In need of a snack, I stumbled upon Nice One Bakery (47 Bayard). Wondering why I'd never actually noticed the awesomeness of the store's name--and why I'd never gone in--I popped in to check out its wares. When my eyes fell upon a giant fried mystery ball, the likes of which I had never seen, I knew I had to have it, whatever it was. The woman behind the counter told me it had roast pork and sausage inside, and I was more than sold.

Turns out, it was much more than pork and sausage. I believe the outside layer was potato (?), the next was seasoned rice, and the center was filled with surprise after surprise, most notably a shiitake mushroom and a hard-boiled quail egg. Basically, it was an all-in-one ball of lunch for $1.30, and the day's happiest discovery.

Nice One Bakery, 47 Bayard Street between Elizabeth and the Bowery.


The Nom Wah Tea Parlor Has Reopened

During my Chinatown explorations on Sunday, I noticed a very happy thing: the Nom Wah Tea Parlor has once again opened its doors for business. While I haven't been there in more than a decade (I had an unfortunate bug dumpling incident there years ago), the old-school place was always close to my heart. Located right at the Bloody Angle of Doyers Street (where New York's Chinatown was born), Nom Wah is supposedly the oldest dim sum parlor in the neighborhood, and its old red booths and beat-up decor is incredibly charming.

I checked out this Daily News article, which they'd posted in the window, and was happy to see that there was a bit of a line out the door. I guess it's time for me to give the place another chance--especially as they've renovated their kitchen...I'm sure that will help.


Chinese New Year Parade 2011

In desperate need of some faux spring outdoor happiness time, I took advantage of yesterday's balmy (40+ degree, woohoo!) sunshine-filled day to walk to Chinatown for the Lunar New Year parade. As it's always colorful and festive, I thought I'd share a few of my snaps...

Bucket o' lanterns.

Next year, I'm totally going to watch the parade from the bridge. Why have I never thought of that?

East Broadway + confetti = the best the street has looked in ages.

Hawking haw candy.

Do you think the city suspends alternate-side parking rules for confetti emergencies?

Parade aftermath: Empty confetti cannons, silly string cans, and snack bags...


Truly Cheap Eats: Xi'an Famous Foods

I've heard about Xi'an Famous Foods for a while now, and after walking by the St. Mark's location a while back, I put it on the top of my "must visit" list. Finally, while in Chinatown yesterday to pick up some groceries in anticipation of the Lunar New Year, Jimmy and I hit the location under the Manhattan Bridge.

Once again, why had I waited so long?

First, the noodle-making process is fascinating...and I actually think I could eventually learn how to make them? I'm sure there's a lot of initial kneading that goes on, but for each order, she took a blob of dough, stretched and slapped it against the counter, ripped it lengthwise into four pieces, then threw it into boiling water for a minute or two. That's it!

We went a little crazy and tried three dishes: Jimmy ordered the Lang Pi Cold Skin Noodles and the Savory Cumin Lamb Hand-Ripped Noodles, while I couldn't resist the Spicy & Tingly Beef Hand Ripped Noodles. The Lang Pi were surprisingly complex for a cold noodle dish, and its tofu slices were marinated in something wonderful (I'm not a tofu fan, but I could eat tons of this). The Savory Cumin Lamb was off the hook--its aroma filled the little shop, and its combination of spices and chili made me incredibly happy (I need to go back and try the burger version sometime). The Spicy & Tingly Beef was good, too--but my least favorite of the three. The consistency of the beef, in my opinion, was a little weird, but it's still worth trying, as its sauce was different, a little more Sichuan-style than the other two.

Doing a little background on the cuisine of Xi'an, its spice-filled style makes complete sense. The city was in the heart of the Silk Road, and therefore a trading center for spices from the Middle East. The flavors in the dishes we had are an example of that tradition: the sauces are rich, aromatic, complex, and spicy...and addictive. I haven't been able to stop nibbling the leftovers (I just ate the remaining Lang Pi Cold Skin noodles, and it ranks among the best breakfasts ever).

So, for the price (most things hover in the $5 to $6 range), this place is definitely an educational culinary adventure worth taking.

Xi'an Famous Foods has a few outlets throughout the city, but we visited the teeny tiny counter-only location on 88 East Broadway, underneath the Manhattan Bridge (around the corner on Forsyth).

For a little more info. on the cuisine of Xi'an and a peek behind the noodle-making scenes, check out this Cooking Channel video (not really sure what Mo Rocca's doing in the beginning of this clip, but whatever...).

Happy Lunar New Year!


Save The Skee-Ball Machines Of My Childhood!

Visiting the Jersey Shore this weekend, I made a disturbing discovery: the arcades seem to be getting rid of the old-school games! What is going on?

It looks like the venues that were once filled with video games, pinball machines, rows of Skee-Ball machines, and a few ticket-spewing games of chance are turning into faux casinos. While my findings are not scientific--I only visited two boardwalks, Point Pleasant Beach and Seaside Heights--the venues I checked out were filled with video poker, one-armed bandits, too many claw machines, and the elderly. The old games were off in the back corner, and instead of oozing the vibe of fun electricity, the places smelled of the same sad desperation one finds in dingy old casinos.

I am officially worried, especially when it comes to the fate of my favorite seaside amusement: Skee-Ball. On Day 1 in Point Pleasant, there were no old Skee-Ball machines at any of the open arcades. The groovy yellow, red, and white machines of my childhood had been replaced by shorter, pink and blue monstrosities that cost 50 cents per play! Unacceptable.

On Day 2, after visiting a few of the Seaside Heights arcades that had also switched over to the pink and blue horror machines, I finally found some of the old ones--to my great relief--at Carousel Family Entertainment, a fabulously old place that still smells like the boardwalks did when I was a kid.

Now, I understand that these wonders of seaside happiness are probably on their last legs (one had no sound, another ripped me off), but the old Skee-Ball machines are so worth saving...if only for my own personal happiness. The balls are wooden, the lanes are the proper length...and it just feels right. My childhood self was happy to find them, but my adult self is concerned they're on their way out. While I know bars in NYC have been installing them--I totally need to check them out--bar Skee-Ball will never be the same as boardwalk Skee-Ball...

Also spied at the same arcade were a few of these Pokereno machines, another game I totally rocked when I was a kid--I fondly remember shoving dimes into these things during our summer vacations at Cape May. There's something strangely wonderful about rolling a rubber ball down a slope into holes trying to score some kind of Poker-like hand. I know I thought I was seriously skilled when I was 10--I had the aim of a genius--but really, it's totally random...those little balls are seriously bouncy!