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


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 
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