Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Avocados Mex-American Grill

I was looking for a blog opp today and was thinking Tullulah's in Bayshore, but familial consensus brought us to Avocados out in Bayport.  I've heard of Avocados through word of mouth; it's a Mex-American Grill serving Cali-style burritos, tacos, quesadillas and the like.  Emeline says that it is considered competition for Bubba's, but even considering my low expectations radiating from their dire looking website, I left Avocados disappointed.

The four of us ordered soft tropical shrimp tacos, hard fish tacos, a pork taco, a chicken quesadilla with jalapenos, three empanadas and chips and salsa.  The counter-girl was not particularly friendly but she was steadily busy as a line formed to order behind us.  Our order with four water bottles came to $56.  Better be some pretty good tacos.  
The chips and salsa came out first.  The salsa was pico de gallo style and seemed fresh but was entirely too acidic.  I couldn't get past the bitter taste.  
Our tacos and quesadilla came a few minutes later.  Instead of the tropical shrimp tacos with mango and pineapple which I wanted to compare to Bubba's, I was served classic tacos with shrimp, which meant more of the acidic salsa piled on top.  There was a decent amount of shrimp, cheese and lettuce, but all I could taste were the tomatoes.  Mom's fish tacos had the same toppings over chopped, fried fish.  The hard taco shells were comparable to Ortega from the grocery store; they would have benefitted from some personal touch.  All of the tacos, including the pork, were bland and boring with a severe lack of seasoning and flavor.  Mom thought it was weird to have mixed greens on top of the taco instead of typical iceberg. 
Dad's empanadas came out last and sent shock waves across the table.  They were electric red and looked like the texture of a corndog.  There were filled with shredded pork and cheese and were served with some kind of red sauce, but they were super doughy and seemed frozen.  They bore zero resemblance to any empanadas I've ever had or seen.  Four years in the Bronx taught me how an empanada should be and Avocados has it wrong.  The only item on the table we all agreed was fine was Em's quesadilla.  Not much room for error with chicken and cheese melted in a folded tortilla.  It was quite large and cooked well.  

Besides the unimpressive food, the ambiance at Avocados suffered.  The unappetizing orange walls were dirty and the space was cold.  The TV blared behind me and the few tables were bare of napkins or hot sauce.  Someone on Yelp said that Avocados takes a safe route with their menu, and I agree that nothing was inedible; it was all just excruciatingly boring.  So boring I almost fell asleep mid-chew.  Plus, for a name like Avocados, I sensed a devastating lack of the namesake fruit.  I wonder if the attraction to this place is in the burritos, but if they can't do a taco, I can't imagine anything amazing happening in burrito form.  This wasn't worth the ride to Bayport or the money.

Avocados: 955 Montauk Hwy, Bayport, NY., (631) 419-6333

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Fresh Thai Green Curry

While Charlie and I were in Thailand this summer we had a mean green curry in Chiang Mai at our guesthouse, The Eagle House.  It was so good that we had it once a day during our entire stay in Chiang Mai.  It was spicy, sweet and distinct because it contained little to no coconut milk, creating a dark green brothy consistency unparalleled by any other curry I've had.  We'll never forget it, and probably each keep trying and failing to recreate it.

We made our own Thai green curry last week with ingredients we rummaged for in Chinatown.  We found everything we needed even including the exotic pea eggplants that were in our curry in Thailand.  Some of the key ingredients came from Bangkok Center Grocery that we found down on Mosco St.  The friendly clerk was from Bangkok himself and seemingly knew just what we needed as he suggested other ingredients.  
We combined a few recipes to include a variety of ingredients in our paste, which forms the base and flavoring of the dish.  To create our paste we used 6 thai green chilies, 5 kaffir lime leaves, two stalks of lemongrass, a sprig of Thai basil, galangal powder, shrimp paste, garlic, shallots, ground coriander, cumin and black pepper.  All went into a food processor until it reached a paste like consistency.  We learned that shrimp paste smells strongly like feet.
We fried the paste with more sliced shallots and some oil in the bottom of a large pot.  After a few minutes, we added about 3 tablespoons of coconut milk, thinly sliced raw chicken and a few squirts of fish sauce.  We stirred until the chicken was coated in paste and let cook until it was a bit underdone.  We added the rest of the coconut milk, one can's worth of water and one can of chicken broth to create a thin consistency.  We also added the quartered pea eggplants, a regular sliced up eggplant and some string beans.  Towards the end we threw in the rind and juice of one lime, about a tablespoon of brown sugar and maybe 4 more stalks of thai basil.  This looked and smelled like it was coming together really nicely, but upon tasting we realized that although it had a nice bite, it tasted strongly of chicken stock.  
We added a bit more of each of the spices and a few more lime leaves in hopes that the chicken flavor would cook down and blend in.  The stock did end up toning down a bit, but next time I think I would just use more water instead of any stock at all.    
We served the curry with jasmine rice, and when it hit the bowl we were quite pleased.  Even though most recipes called for 10-12 chilies, our dish was nose-runningly hot with only 6.  Our rendition wasn't as sweet or as green as I remembered from Thailand, but for my first try I would say it was a success.  It was even better two days later as leftovers, after it had time to sit and steep further in the fridge.  I would suggest combing over a few recipes to make sure to include ingredients that some leave out and to get creative with the meat and vegetables; anything can really go in here!  Most of the spices and greens can be found at Whole Foods, but a trip to Chinatown saves some dollas adds to the fun.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Saltie

Today, Charlie and I had sandwiches at Saltie in Williamsburg.  The original plan was to hit up highly-regarded Forcella for pizza but when we got there we found out it's not open for lunch.  On our way down Metropolitan we came across Saltie just in perfect time to step out of the rain, and I recalled reading about one of their sandwiches on Real Cheap Eats.  We stepped into the small shop to a greeting from one of the girls behind the counter.

There were around seven sandwich options, mostly nautically named, and a bunch of other little pastries available. Charlie went for the Spanish Armada with potato tortilla and pimenton aioli, and I went for the Balmy with chicken liver pate, ham, jalapenos, mayo, pickled vegetables and sesame seeds.  You can currently put anything with pate in front of me and make me happy.  We left a name and waited for about five minutes for our food to be made just behind the counter in plain view.  
Both sandwiches were big and came on soft, salted focaccia bread.  Mine looked quite messy and intimidating but it actually held up quite well.  It had a good amount of pate spread on the bottom slice of bread complimented by a light spread of mayo on the top.  There were whole sprigs of cilantro and mint, onions, carrots and sliced scallions;  all seemed fresh.  The sliced ham was present but seemed a little lost.  All of the strong flavors came together really well, and upon the first bite I realized that the name balmy was a play on similarly composed and flavored, banh mi.  This sandwich was so good and I was pleasantly satisfied when it was gone.  Charlie's sandwich had a good slice of tortilla which was mostly potato chunks merely held together by egg.  The spicy aioli was a nice addition.
My sandwich was $10 and Charlie's was $9, which seems like a lot, especially for his.  While we sat on the tiny stools eating we saw a delivery sacks of fresh veggies from a truck that said Finger Lake Farms, which makes me think that this is literally farm-to-table food.  That is worth paying a little extra for a sandwich, but let's face it, you can buy a bus from New York to DC for $8 a ticket -- a 4.5 hour ride could be cheaper than either of our sandwiches.  Kind of redic, but water was free so I guess it all evens out.  By the time we left the place was packed with characters who were willing to pay the $10 per sandwich, so I guess there is no incentive to lower prices.  There is talk on Yelp of rudeness of the workers at Saltie, but we didn't think they seemed hugely unpleasant.  

I would go to Saltie again, and I would get the Balmy again but not the Spanish Armada.  I would also like to try the Ship's Biscuit with egg and ricotta.  This place was perfect for a quick lunch and worth the splurge for a sandwich once in a while.

Saltie: 378 Metropolitan Ave at Havemeyer St., Brooklyn, NY.  (718) 387-4777
Saltie on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Tony Luke's

It's easy to tell that you're obsessed with good food when you plan a trip around where you want to eat.  It was perfect timing that Emeline was ready to go home from UDel for Christmas when Charlie and I needed a ride home from D.C., and I knew that we were destined to stop in Philly for some cheesesteak.  Why mess with fate?  I'll tell you, I researched the best place to get cheesesteaks for like a month before the main event.  I wanted to avoid Pat's and Geno's, just like I avoid Katz's in NYC, but besides that I needed a little direction from those in the know.  A few enquiries later, Tony Luke's it was. 
Tony Luke's is located in South Philly right next to the I-95, very close to all of the sports stadiums of the city.  The area is semi-industrial and strip-club laden, so upon arrival I knew I had made the right choice. I read a lot of great things about TL's roast pork and broccoli rabe sandwich, so we resolved to share one pork and one cheesesteak between the three of us.  I had been having inner dialogue with myself for a week trying to decide whether we would take the plunge and go for cheese wiz on the steak or not, but when game day came, I couldn't pull the trigger.  The (gruff) woman taking our order said she doesn't like wiz, so I took her lead and went with american cheese and fried onions.
The pork and broccoli rabe above was warm, moist, messy and delicious.  The bread had a nice crusty and soft dichotomy going on and the bitterness of the rabe was countered nicely by the pork.  The sandwich was quite garlicky which had me panicking for a moment (see: garlic allergy) but thankfully, dangerous lines were left uncrossed.
The cheesesteak was melt-in-mouth delicious.  It had the same bread as the pork sandwich but it was more neatly composed.  You can see that we had it sliced in three to share, but it normally arrives un-cut and uncensored, ready to get down and dirty.  The cheese was carefully melted into the middle of the sandwich with the onions to ensure that it was included in every bite, and the steak was tender and thinly sliced.  There was a condiment bar that included peppers and pickles to be added into the sandwiches and although we did not indulge we noticed other customers stocking up.  (Many of the other patrons were old, single men.  Is this the normal demographic for cheesesteak eaters?  I don't know.)

I've read a lot about long lines and wait times at Tony Luke's, but around 11:45 am when we were there we were at the table with our food within about 15 minutes.  I think this spot is popular with sports-fans, so it might be good to avoid around game time, unless you love hoards of sports-fans.  The near-I95 location is quite convenient and I can imagine this being a dangerous temptation next time I'm on the road in the area.  Or on any road in a 100 mile vicinity.  I can't compare this sandwich to others as it was my first from the motherland, but I can say that it was damn good and worth a trip to Philly.


Tony Luke's: 35 E. Oregon Ave., Philadelphia, PA. (215) 551-5725 Tony Luke's on Urbanspoon

Chinatown Express

While walking around D.C.'s Chinatown, Charlie and I came across a dingy looking restaurant with a woman making dumplings in the window.  This dumpling display turned out to be highly successful marketing because the next day we decided to hit the place up for lunch.  It turns out that Chinatown Express has been given much praise by D.C. publications and even the New York Times, and they proudly display many raving reviews on the walls along side menus written in Chinese and English.  We ordered steamed pork buns, fried vegetable dumplings, and homemade, fried hand-pulled noodles with chicken.
Here you can see our friend making goodies in the window on the left and tanks of fish, huge crabs and lobsters on the right.  They brought green tea to the table and our food came out very quickly.  A waitress took initiative and suggested that we try a homemade, green condiment that was on the table, and she spooned some out for each of us and dressed it with a little soy sauce.  
We thought the pork buns were really nicely done.  The filling was hot and juicy and the wrappers were not too thick.  I really liked the vegetable filling in the fried dumplings, it was fresh and green instead of non-descript and gray.  They were perfectly crisp and browned.  The wrappers on the veggie dumplings however were a bit thick and could have done with a little less dough -- not the worst I've had though.  We both thought the noodles were just alright.  I liked knowing that they were pulled in-house, but besides that nothing was too special about the dish.  There was a lot of sliced garlic and the chicken was cooked nicely.

If in D.C. again I would go back to Chinatown Express but I would try something different -- something more terrifying from the laminated pages of the decrepit menu.   Our meal was fast, hot, cheap and tasty.  It was everything we expected; no more, no less.

Chinatown Express: 746 6th Street NW, Washington D.C. (202) 638-0424

Ben's Chili Bowl

I have been silent because I have been starving myself in anticipation of this past weekend.  (That would never be true because I have zero will power.)  Charlie is here visiting which equals about two weeks of eating ridiculous amounts.  We took a little trip this weekend to DC, Delaware and Philly and as a result I do not need to eat again for the next five days.  I just like to think of binge eating as stocking up for winter hibernation but in the summer I have no excuse.  Anyway, I bring you the self-proclaimed Washington landmark: Ben's Chili Bowl.
If any of you are like me and spent hours upon hours of college weekends watching the Travel Channel, you may remember seeing Ben's on Man vs. Food or Anthony Bourdain or any of the other non-descript best-of-the-country shows that never seem to end.  The signature dish at Ben's is called the Chili Half-Smoke, and they can be seen piled high on the grill in the front window.  It's a half pork, half beef sausage on a bun covered in onions, mustard and chili.  We each got one and also ordered cheese fries, homemade coleslaw and a cherry shake.  Might as well go for it.
Considering how many calories this must have been, how could this meal have been anything other than blissful?  The half-smoked had a really nice spice to it and was grilled to perfection with appropriate snap to the casing and coarsely ground meat.  The thick chili was a really nice addition but was not as spicy as I would have expected.  The fries were done well and while the ones at the bottom were a bit soggy with cheese, I was glad that we did not run out of cheese after the top layer of fries.  I was really impressed with the coleslaw; it was finely chopped and light on the mayo for a nice refreshing break, although it was quite a small portion.  Charlie's cherry shake was really tasty but it was so thick that it was hard to suck it up through the straw.  After it melted a bit it was better.  All of our food was very hot, came out quickly and only cost around $15.

I think this place gets a lot of late-night business since its on U Street, and I can understand that it would feel more justified to eat this if I was drunk.  Let's face it, Ben's should never become a habit. I would put it on the same once-every-three-months level as Five Guys.  We could barely move for 20 minutes after finishing this.  But, if you're in DC it is a must-visit, even if it's just for a shake and to see Obama's photo on the wall.  

Ben's Chili Bowl: 1213 U Street, Washington D.C. (202) 667-0909 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Shrimp Bisque from Scratch

While looking for a dessert recipe to make for Thanksgiving, I came across an easy shrimp bisque recipe in Dinner Tonight, Done by Real Simple.  The recipe called for shrimp, heavy cream, brandy, canned tomato soup and fresh chives.  I was in the mood for something a bit more complicated, so I decided to make my own tomato soup for the base instead of using canned.  I used Jamie Oliver's tomato soup recipe from 30 Minute Meals.

I started off by roasting about a pound of cherry tomatoes and a few larger tomatoes on a baking sheet with four crushed garlic cloves, half of a de-seeded green chile, salt, pepper and a good lug of olive oil.  This roasted on 425 F for about 15 mins, and proceeded to smoke out my kitchen.  I roughly chopped a red onion and cooked it up in a large sauce pan with 4 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar until soft.
Once the tomatoes became a bit wrinkled and soft, I combined them with the onions and cooked the combo up for another few minutes until it was fragrant and came together nicely.
 I blended the combination in two batches until it reached a "rustic" consistency.  Rustic was Jamie's word and I think it is perfectly descriptive of a nicely blended but still textured soup.  I made a major mistake with the blender which almost compromised the entire dish.  Oops.  Luckily we were able to pull it together and save the meal.  I won't go into detail.
The Real Simple shrimp bisque recipe called for 28 oz of canned tomato soup, which was almost exactly how much the Jamie Oliver recipe made.  I cooked 1 pound of shrimp in the large saucepan with a little bit of butter and then set aside.  Next I combined the tomato soup, 1 cup of heavy cream, a bit of water and 1 tablespoon of brandy in the saucepan and let it all come together on medium heat for a few minutes.  I added the shrimp for 2-3 minutes and the soup was ready to serve.  Be sure not to cook for too long after the shrimp is added and risk overcooking.
Andddddd the result:  This soup was so good.  I'm really glad I made my own tomato soup base because I can imagine that it would have been quite flat with canned soup.  Jamie's recipe added so much flavor and depth to the dish, and I think the soup really benefitted from the spice that the green chile brought.  The texture was really nice although there were a few un-pureed pieces of onion floating around that eluded the blender.  I think next time I would let the tomatoes and onions get a bit softer before blending to ensure that everything gets chopped up.  The broth was not too heavy and had a beautiful color, and the shrimp were cooked really well.  With a warm, crusty baguette, this was delish.  I would definitely make it again.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

El Texano Deli Taqueria y Pupuseria

Behold El Texano Deli, where English is sparse and gringoes non-existant.  That is until we hit it up hard for lunch today after a trip to Island Thrift.  I'd like to say I've been scoping this place out since I was a child in the womb, but I think it's really just been since I developed a fancy for White Castle which is across the street.  Ed and I went armed with Spanish menu ordering phrases prepared and practiced, but what came out was really more like spanglish I'd say.  The woman helping us set the tone by speaking to us in English, but I still threw a few words in there like a tool.
Confronted with a long hot table filled with lots of beautiful food, we were timid at first and ordered two tacos each of carne asada, carnitas and pollo.  We also asked for two pupusas.  While we were waiting I noticed that everyone in the know was ordering this yellow soup that had mussels, clams, half-crabs and fish floating around in it.  A small order of that, por favor.  $24 and about ten minutes later we shipped out and headed home with our fragrant styrofoam platters of perfection.
I was nervous in the store that the tacos may be lacking on toppings because I only saw onions being added, but at home we found a bag of seasoned cabbage slaw just begging to get involved.  This was to prevent sogg from occurring on the journey; how thoughtful.  We liked the salty and moist steak taco the best and I think the crisp (and sometimes weirdly crunchy) carnitas came in second.  The chicken lacked excitement, but we only ordered it because they said they had no chorizo.  Guess JG will remain my chorizo mainstay.
What is a pupusa?  Wikipedia just told me that it is a Salvadoran patty made from corn flower and usually filled with a blend of cheese, pork and refried beans. These were really tasty but quite greasy.  El Texano offered to add more cheese, meat and/or beans to them, but I think they were perfect in this natural state.
I've saved the most interesting for last.  This sopa mariscada was quite the treat.  I saw men eating it in the store with piles of shells and bones building up on their plates, so I knew I was in for some work with this.  The broth was thin but full of flavor that would so necessarily come from a slow stewing of sea creatures in their entireties.  I found bones and gills and maybe even worse, but also mussels and clams and fish meat.  Just don't look too closely at what's in your spoon.  I didn't bother working for the shrimp but they were there, heads and all.  Something about the broth was distinctly familiar and I would venture to guess that there may have been a coconut milk involved.  I couldn't bring myself to eat through the soup indiscriminately, but I'm definitely glad I tried what everyone else was going after.  

The moral of the story is -- everything tastes better when it is authentic enough for the knowledgable to eat it.  El Texano has good food and even better culture, so go with it.  There was much more to try there, so I'll definitely be back.

El Texano Deli Taqueria and Pupuseria: Corner of Brentwood Rd. and 1st Ave., Brentwood, NY

Friday, November 11, 2011

Tuk Tuk Boy is Bland

I heard rumors of Tuk Tuk Boy parking on 50th and 6th permanently last week and I was psyched to have some cheap Thai food right outside my office.  I hoped it would be a rare gem and I resolved to try it for lunch today.  Then, Midtown Lunch dropped the equivalent of an a-bomb on my Friday morning:  Tuk Tuk Boy is not worth a try.  Pad Thai is dry and lacking in garnishes; the line is long and result is unrewarding.  No one mentioned the red curry though, so I remained young and foolish.  After all, I have personally been to the gorgeous white temple that adorns the side of the truck.  This played on my emotions, people!  Emotions!
I got there at 12:15 and there was only one other customer waiting.  I ordered the crab and shrimp rolls, $2.99, and the Chicken Red Curry over rice, $5.99.  A line formed during the seven minutes I waited for my food.  Someone walked away because they said that the chicken and rice dish would take 30 minutes.  The cart is in place when I get to work in the morning before 9 am.  There is no excuse for unpreparedness. 

I watched the guy inside pour the curry over the rice out of a wok and I even spied some Thai basil in the mix.  The meal was served in one of those tin containers and on my walk back to the office I could sense through the plastic bag that the curry broth was leaking;  maybe try a plastic tupperware container, tuk tuk man.
Anyway, I can confirm Midtown Lunch's negative review.  My red curry was bland and the rice was soggy and stuck together.  There was lettuce with peanut dressing at one side of the tin, but it was engulfed in red curry broth which was of a watery consistency. Thai curry is supposed to be thin but this actually had little more taste than water.  Also, I appreciate that you want to serve me a salad with my lunch, but please don't drown it!  There were small pieces of chicken and bamboo shoots.  The rolls were deep fried and tasted crabby, but the inside looked like nothing more than gray mush.  Frozen at some point for sure.  Probably as recently as this morning.

Oh how I wished for an authentic Thai experience.  I could even sacrifice authenticity if the meal was tasty.  This was not a rare gem as I had hoped.  Rather, it was a fake rare gem like so many tuk tuk drivers tried to peddle to me in Bangkok.  Tuk Tuk Boy is a shoot and a miss, but hopefully it will inspire a new mobile Thai food industry that can better cater to my tastes!

I'll leave you with this serene thought from my trip to Thailand:

Tuk Tuk Boy: 50th St. between 6th and 7th Aves.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Blue Point Brewing Company and Tara Inn

This is my 100th blog post.  
Last weekend my girlfriends and I planned to go taste as much beer as possible at the Blue Point Brewing Company, and then head north to Port Jeff to eat for cheap at Tara Inn.  Blue Point used to boast a free tasting menu which seemed too good to be true, but upon arrival we were told that things had changed.  The bartender explained that we could each have three free samples and try the rest of the menu, including about 12 more samples, all for $17.  We were each handed two bathroom sized cups full of the lightest two beers on the list, and were asked to recycle the cups until we made it to the darkest beer at the bottom of the list.  We brought our beers outside to the tables out back and the games began.
Do you want to bring your dog to the brewery with you?  A pizza or other food?  Go for it; Blue Point is a totally relaxed place with nothing but good vibes and great beer. (I vommed after I wrote that sentence.) We started off pretending like we cared what each beer tasted like, or maybe we actually did care, but that game was easy to forget once we got towards the end of the list.  We rated some of the samples from 1-5, but all I can remember is that the all of the girls really loved the Blueberry Ale and the guys hated it.  I was so excited to finally try the Rastafa-rye and the Hoptical Illusion that I have seen so often on tap in LI and NYC bars, but those two samples were towards the end and have blended into the dark abyss of my memory.  I liked the Pale Ale but this hoppy selection got mixed reviews from the rest of us.  The only "don't" to mention here:  Don't try to get a beer for your friend in addition to your own in one trip to the bar.  They insist that each drinker appears for their own beer.
We left Blue Point around 6 and headed up to Tara Inn on the outskirts of Port Jeff.  This place looks and feels like a biker bar but has super cheap food and a fun atmosphere.  It was packed with students from Stonybrook when we got there and although we thought we might have a long wait for food, it came out quite quickly.  My bacon cheeseburger was $1.50.  Laura's lobster was $10.  That's cheap.  Could be the cheapest lobster south of Maine.  We splurged impulsively on 10 beer battered shrimp for something like $3, and despite being small they were good and seemed fresh.  You have to be on top of your game to push to the bar to order food and to stake out a highly demanded table, but all in all this place is good, cheap fun.  Check the paper plates on the walls for some of the best deals.
Note to John, a 25 year old super senior student from Stonybrook:  I'm actually a nice person.  I was rude to you because after 5 minutes of conversation, you were standing so close to me that your midsection was touching my thy. Yes, midsection to thy; you're short.

So, let's tally it up:
Approximately 15 beer samples and a bacon cheeseburger with fries: $19.  
Binge drinking and gluttony disguised by beer-tasting and deal-chasing: priceless.  

Blue Point Brewing Company: 161 River Ave., Patchogue, NY (631) 475-6944
-Tasting Room is open for select hours on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Tara Inn: 1519 Main St., Port Jeff Station, NY (631) 473-9602

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Crisp

Today I had falafel from the Crisp truck for lunch.  I've seen it around and read about it somewhere and have been waiting for the opportune moment to strike for some time now.  It was on 49th and 6th today, so I cursed my budget, threw my homemade sandwich in the fridge and swore to eat it tomorrow.  (I'm coming out about this in public, so please don't give me a hard time Denise.)  I ordered the Crisp Mexican falafel sandwich with cilantro pesto,  avocado, corn, salsa, nachos and jalapeƱo dressing.
Crisp calls its sandwich dish a falafel handbag, and it comes in a clever little cardboard package that "unzips" around the middle and serves as a holder for the inevitable mess that falafel creates.  At first glance the sandwich was a colorful cornucopia of fresh veggies.  How appropriate for November.  While I cannot say that each of the toppings were evenly distributed (all of the nachos and most of the avocado were at the bottom,) I can say that the falafel was moist and light and the whole sandwich was delicious.  The cilantro and jalapeno provided a nice kick and I cooled it down with yogurt sauce.  The pita was soft and fluffy there was a choice of whole wheat or white.
As shown here, there were various toppings throughout the entire sandwhich, so I did not face a full-on falafel situation towards the bottom of the pita.  The service at Crisp was quick even though there was a crowd of about 15 people waiting for their orders when we arrived.  A manager seemed to be expediting and taking orders and money from the front of the truck and the inside line looked clean and efficient.  Cleanliness is always welcome but never a given when ordering food on the side of the street.  I would definitely have Crisp again, but next time I would try something different!  They have six creative sandwich options including African, Mexican and Parisian, and a few different hummus salad options as well, all at around $10.  Any falafel sandwich can be served as a salad.  They also have fries that looked delish and can be added to any meal with a drink for $1.  I only regret that there is no option to choose your own toppings like at Maoz.


Crisp: Follow @CRISPonWheels on Twitter for daily locations, or visit the brick and mortar on 40th between Broadway and 6th.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Bistro 25

When I woke up between 2 and 3 am on Saturday morning after going to bed at 8 pm on Friday night,  I came across a fresh review by the New York Times of Sayville's Bistro 25 on Twitter.  Joanne Starkey of the Times called Bistro 25 "a welcome, affordable discovery," and noted many dishes including a pork belly appetizer, items from a special Oktoberfest menu, and braised short ribs.  The possibility of these three delicious dishes had me convinced that 25 would be a good place to try, but it was a hard sell on my roommates (Denise and Ed) until Olga said she wanted to go too.  I called up on Sunday to get a reservation for that night, and was not surprised to hear that the restaurant was practically booked up after the Times obsessed over it.  Beginning of the end? Just kidding.  The friendly host (and owner) squeezed our party of five in for 4 pm with the understanding that we would be out by the next reservation at 6. 

We arrived to find the bar full and loud, a live band setting up, and our table right next to a large christening party complete with several rambunctious little bundles of love.  It took me about 25 minutes to decide what I would have off of the extensive but refined menu.  I wanted to choose different dishes than were reviewed in the Times, but the pork belly appetizer was irresistible.  This whole process involved me begging others to order dishes that I wanted to try including the pate app and the braised short ribs.  When we finally ordered, we all changed our minds again and most of us ended up getting the prix fixe Oktoberfest menu.  We ordered the pork belly and mac and cheese apps for the table, and I ended up with a potato soup and the bratwurst main.  Mom and Olga went with the pork shank and spaetzle, Rich with the paella, and Ed with the sauerbraten.
The Braised Pork Belly appetizer with corn pudding and pickled shallots was more meaty and less fatty than I expected, but very tasty and satisfying.  The tops of the cubes were crisp and the meat was well complimented by the sweet corn and shallots.  I enjoyed the mixture of textures.  The Truffled Macaroni & Cheese was made with smoked gouda, cheddar and parmigiana.  The truffle inclusion made it a winner for me but I could have done without the smokiness of the gouda; I am not a smoked cheese lover but I wouldn't go so far as to say it ruined the dish.  Mac and cheese plus truffle oil is an upgrade that helps me justify my love for this possibly juvenile dish.  It says, yes, I still have the taste of a small child, but with the price-tag-sophistication of a steak.  I ain't no cheap date.  The breadcrumb topping was nice and the dish was creamy but light.
Oktoberfest Salad Trio: cucumber, beets and carrots
I got the Bratwurst because I peeped the man at the next table devouring it.  I have no complaints about the dish.  The brats were cooked well and the mash was creamy.  I am really enjoying my newfound affinity for sauerkraut, so I was happy to see it here.  The pork shank and spaetzle dish was another winner.  The shank was tender and covered in dark gravy, and the spaetzle were light.  The sauerbraten was nice and tender too, but the accompanying potato balls were too light and could almost pass as mashed potatoes.  They needed to be more starchy and sticky.  The meat had the familiar pickled taste that reminds me of family get-togethers in the Fall.  We often find ourselves disappointed in German food in restaurants, but we were all refreshed to find this meal delicious.  

All of the dishes had nice presentation, and the breadsticks on the table were tasty and warm.  The menu features 25 bottles of wine at or under $25, hence the name Bistro 25.  All of these factors plus a reasonable price tag made this experience one that I would repeat.  I hope that next time there won't be a large party in the vicinity of my table or a time limit (which was enforced by 6:05.)  The friendly atmosphere and tasty food won my approval and will probably lure me back in the future.

Bistro 25: 45 Foster Ave., Sayville, (631) 589-7775

Saturday, October 15, 2011

JG Deli

Main Street in Bayshore is home to JG Deli, which I guarantee that many people have never noticed despite driving past it every day, or have written off as supa-ghetto looking.  It's across the road and a little bit further west from KFC.  I've been missing the bodegas of the Bronx, and for some time now I've had the hunch that this corner store might have something good hiding inside.  I've been nervous to go in there, but upon stake-out today we decided it was worth at least a lap around the store, even if all I scored was an empanada.

We crossed the threshold of the front door and lo-and-behold, there was a hot table to the left with lots of home made hispanic goodness.  On the right was an open area with a few tables and men drinking beers and watching futbol, and there was a back room with a pool table and a few others hangin' around.  Besides hot food they have groceries, money orders, hispanic cookies, porn dvds and little to no knowledge of English.  I'm not going to pretend like we fit in in there but in spanglish we ordered three chorizo tacos and a tamale.  Also on display: a single cooked fish, fried plantains, some kind of seafood stew, something that looked like chili, and another thin stewy dish with beef.  A menu written straight on the wall in marker boasted huevos rancheros and carne asada.  We hit the jackpot.

The woman took a fresh package of chorizo out of the fridge and diced up a few links.  She also added radishes, avocado, tomatoes, onions and cilantro to the corn tortillas she heated up on the grill.  The tacos came with some kind of red salsa and fresh lime slices.  She unwrapped the tamale and disposed of its husk to expose its corn-mealy flesh.  We paid $9 and took it all home.
Dad said these tacos took him right back to his days of living and working in Mexico City.  With a little squeezed lime juice and red sauce they were authentic and filling.  All of the fresh flavors just came together so well.  It was better than a taco from Estrellita Poblana, and I don't say that lightly.  The woman who made them offered beef or chorizo, but I'm sure you could ask for chicken as well.  The tamale dough was light and filled with chicken; it was tasty and simple. 

I'll definitely go back to JG Deli.  It was delicious and cheap, and brought me back to the convenience and homeliness of the bodegas in the Bronx.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Gnocchi by Five Men

And a few women.
A Photo Essay
Hilarity ensues.
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