Monday, August 27, 2012

Smorgasburg is fun

I finally made it to Smorgasburg recently and of course found myself overwhelmed with choices of what to eat. Marissa and I first split a mexican sandwich from Cemita's with carnitas, lettuce, tomatoes, pickled onions, white cheese, avocado and various sauces. With red hot sauce on the side this was a huge (and messy) winner. 

We digested for a bit and then dove back into the crowds for pupusas from Solber. We got one with pork and one with beans, cheese and jalapenos, and a strawberry lemonade on the side. We both preferred pork pupusa over the other. It was more moist and flavorful. Toppings on the side included pickled onions, peppers, lettuce, sour cream and hot sauce. 

Smorgasburg opens every Saturday of the summer through November 17th, rain or shine, in the location of the Brooklyn Flea. Seating is available within the gates of the tent market, but benches and green grass with city views are always available just outside the fence. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Eat this in London

London does have good food! Pay no mind to those who deny this, just know where to look when you get there. As seen on the map below, my palette has no geographic bounds. If you find yourself in any of these areas, or hungry and bored (basically the story of my life,) these spots are worth-it.
A. Good for Food Cafe, Finsbury Park: Finsbury Park is a magical land. (I don't think you'll hear many people saying that.) Dotted with kebab and bagel shops, run down pubs and workers cafes, there are few stand out storefronts that are blazing the way towards gentrification. Good for Food is located towards the top of Blackstock Road and it's a gem of a cafe. They serve all kinds of sandwiches and frittatas and things but Charlie and I popped in for sweets and got cappuccinos, a slice of moist carrot cake and a dark chocolate and macadamia nut cookie. There is a small garden out back with seating, and the narrow room leading out back is currently displaying a riveting set of photos of the Roma people in Italy. 
B. Lucky Chip at the Sebright Arms, Hackney: If you want a burger come here. Lucky Chip previously slung its celeb-named, generously topped and super messy burgers at the Broadway Market but have now taken over the kitchen at hipster-pub extraodinaire, the Sebright Arms. I had the el Chapo burger with roasted jalapenos, aioli and blue cheese, and Charlie had the Kevin Bacon with bacon and cheddar. We weren't asked how we wanted the burgers cooked but I'd say they both came out around medium. They were really moist so it didn't much matter, even though I usually go a bit redder. There's no tube in Hackney so I really can't tell you how to get here besides be dedicated in your resolve for great burgers and figure it out. Take the overground to London Fields and walk.

C. Vegetarian Falafel at Lower Marsh Market, Waterloo: Charlie found this small market when he worked in the Waterloo area, and after drunkenly promising me the best falafel in London for the next day we headed here and split large one for £4. Fresh toppings included hummus, lettuce, tomato, eggplant, pickled veg and garlic sauce. The falafel were nice and light and the whole thing was really colorful.
D. Thai food at The Heron, Norfolk Crescent: We were looking for Esarn Thai food in London and came across The Heron, a pub with a small karaoke room in the basement serving authentic northeastern Thai food. The room is seriously bizarre. It's dark and decorated with soccer player cutouts, flower pictures and soccer balls hanging from the ceiling. We ordered a crispy catfish salad, crispy pork, and glass noodles with prawns along with a huge bottle of water because we knew it would be super spicy. Everything was great but I especially loved the catfish. It was crumbled up and fried to a crisp, and served with a fiery chili sauce. It was easy to ignore tiny little bits of bone that popped up intermittently. The pork was positively reminiscent of the same dish at Zabb Elee in NYC.

E. La Creperie de Hampstead: I'm confident that these are some of the best crepes in the world. I mean, the best crepe stand has to be somewhere, and I think this is it. There are many options for both sweet and savory crepes. I always go savory, but you could do what my sister did back in my study abroad days and get savory and then go back 10 minutes later for sweet. She's committed to crepes, and I endorse that. I like to get spinach, egg, cheese and cream, but ham and cheese with a runny egg used to be a favorite as well. This last time I got mushrooms in the mix too but I would skip them next time because they are a bit bland. Watch the (intimidating) chef as he or she expertly spreads the crepe mix in a circle on the grill, shaves the softened white cheese and adds huge pats of butter to create a prefect golden brown crust.  It's hard for me to go to Hampstead and not get one.
Good for Food Cafe: 16 Blackstock Road, Finsbury Park, London N4 2DW. 020 7503 0034

Lucky Chip at the Sebright Arms: 31-35 Coate Street, London E2 9AG. 020 7729 0937

Vegetarian Falafel: Lower Marsh Market, Waterloo SE1

The Heron: Norfolk Crescent, London W2 2DU. 020 7724 8463

La Creperie de Hampstead: 77 Hampstead High Street,  London NW3 1RE. 020 7445 6767

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Burger and Lobster

It seems that Mayfair's Burger & Lobster has quickly become a mainstay in the London food scene. Arrive just before 12 noon and you will find a line of foodies, devotees and educated first-timers waiting to be awarded the first seating at noon. Somewhere towards the middle of the line is the best place to be, because you will be sure to miss out on the already cooked crustaceans that come out right away to the early birds, and your lobster will be cooked to order and steaming hot upon its arrival on a silver tray in front of you.

The choices at Burger & Lobster are simple: lobster, burger, or a lobster roll. Each comes with fries and a side salad for £20. Now, my math isn't the greatest, but it didn't take me long to realize that while 20 quid is quite fair for a whole lobster, it's a lot for a burger or a lobster roll. The going price for a lobster roll in NYC is a tall $17, but out on Long Island you can get a damn good one for around $13. HOWEVER, I was informed by my company that lobster isn't as readily available in England as in the good ole' US of A, and thus, the concept at Burger and Lobster is a winner. (I still don't get the burger part.)
Charlie and I split a lobster and a lobster roll. You can choose to have it grilled, but my decent-sized steamed lobster came out as perfection. It was skillfully sliced right down the middle before presentation and cracked on each claw, rendering nutcracker handiwork unnecessary. The fries were nice and salad fine but forgettable. 
The lobster roll was presented in a golden grilled and buttered roll and topped with chopped chives. Chunks of meat were lightly and loosely coated by a mayo-y mixture, so the sweetness of the meat was not masked. I was glad to see large chunks of meat, but I do wonder if there was a whole lobster in there. 

Being presented with a sandwich was less exciting that a whole lobster, so I think I would skip the sandwich next time. There's something to be said for appearances, and the lobster looked bigger...? I don't know. Just seemed to have better value than the sandwich. No one at my table got the burger, but I scoped it out and it's big. I hear you can get cheese or bacon or both on it for free, so, if you're beef biased, go for it.

Like everyone else who has been there, I would go to Burger and Lobster again! They won me over, dammit. The interior in Mayfair is pubby and laid back, offering booths, crowded tables and barstools. The service is attentive, although I'm glad we weren't the very first few in because as soon as they sat down and ordered, the food arrived, and I'd say some people were out in a half hour. Too quick! They don't take reservations and the place is wildly popular so be ready to wait for a spot. They have just opened another location in SoHo, and I'm sure it's doing the same volume of business as the flagship store. 

Burger & Lobster: 29 Clarges St., Mayfair, London W1J 7EF. 020 7409 1699 Burger & Lobster on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Tramshed does a few things right...

...including huge, perfectly cooked (almost uncooked) steaks, moist, flavorful chickens and greasy, rosemary tinted fries. 

If you want variety, don't look here. Mark Hix's Shoreditch, London outpost, Tramshed, limits the options to a few communal starters and chicken or steak, both served with chips for mains. I went on a Saturday night with Charlie's family and the six of us ordered starters for four, one whole chicken, a one kilogram steak, chips, onion rings and a small salad of minted peas and green beans. 

The starters that came were delicious. We shared silky, whipped chicken liver pate with yorkshire pudding, a fresh tomato and aubergine salad and smoked salmon with fennel and samphire, all for £7.50 each. The chicken arrived topped with stuffing and with feet still intact on a bed of chips, and the steak came with another two bowls of chips. Chicken gravy and bearnaise sauce were served as well. We just kept eating until it was all almost gone. This is definitely a place to share. 

The hipster-ific service was attentive (we are in Shoreditch, after all) and the atmosphere was loud and fun. Art, provided by Damien Hirst, included a shrine-like real cow and chicken in his familiar formaldehyde tank style, and a huge painting of ridiculous cartoon characters, Cow and Chicken. How appropriate.
Go here with a big group, sit in a big booth, and let Tramshed do its thing.

Tramshed: 32 Rivington St., London EC2A 3LX. 020 7749 0478
HIX at The Tramshed on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Mandalay Burmese Could be Better

Since the Olympics have started there has been a huge focus on the best places to eat in London. Time Out London recently did a best dishes feature and listed Mandalay, a Burmese restaurant on Edgware Road, as having one of the best one-bowl dishes the city has to offer. Time Out also boasted that Mandalay is the only Burmese in London. I was intrigued by the idea of a mix between Indian and Thai food, and just finished reading a book about Burma, so I dragged Chuck to try it out one night. We called ahead just in case and arrived to a small restaurant crowded with plastic tablecloth laden tables. Looking good.
It took a little while for the waitress to come and take our order, but I think that may be because they were still preparing for the night when we arrived at 6:30. Time Out recommended the khow suey, which is a coconut curry dish with noodles. I ordered it with prawns. We started with bean sprout and prawn fritters, and Charlie ordered country style lamb for his main with a side of coconut rice.

They made the bean sprout fritter into two pieces for us to share, and it was served with a few sauces including something sweet, soy, and a hot sauce I recognized from a Heinz bottle in Thailand. The shrimp in the fritter were small but the combo was not too bready overall. Just not anything super exciting.
Our mains came and the first thing I thought was that the lamb portion was really small. The noodle dish was bigger, but I was not impressed overall. The soup had an overpowering spicy coconut flavor which was tasty, but I was really expecting to be blown away with depth and a larger variety of ingredients after Time Out's review. The noodles themselves were undescript egg noodles of the supermarket variety, and they were quite gummy, maybe overcooked. There were maybe four good sized shrimp, and the dish was topped with crackly dried rice noodles. Charlie's lamb was nice but, again, just very coconutty. We both enjoyed the rice.
We weren't totally displeased, but neither of us could really see a reason why Time Out has raved about this placed time after time. It wasn't even that cheap. Maybe we are just too used to the depth of flavor in Thai food, or maybe we just didn't try the right dishes. I just wish it was better.

Time Out's piece also includes Tayyab's for grilled meat, Burger and Lobster for seafood, Koya for one-bowl and Banh Mi11 for street food, all of which I can attest are delicious.

Mandalay: 444 Edgware Road, London W2 1EG. 020 7258 3696

Monday, August 6, 2012

London 2012 Olympics: What you're all wondering about

Team GB (most annoying nickname ever) has recently pulled it together and crept up on the Olympics medal count boards. That's great, but you know what I always say: athletes shmathletes. Forget about displaced families and corporate entrapment. The real question is: does the London 2012 Olympic food get the gold? I went to London to find out.
I know you like that gray sky. Before I watched Brazil crush Mauritius in women's Beach Volleyball at Horse Guards Parade in central London, I went for a sandwich from the roast stand. Choices were pork with apple sauce, chicken with pineapple salsa or roast beef with horseradish. I was worried beef might be dry so I went with pork, which was kind of dry itself. The roll was really bready, but the gooey apple chutney substance helped moisten up the whole affair. The most redeeming quality of the sandwich was a bed of rocket nestled below the shredded pork. This was the first day of the games, so it could have been much worse.
A few days later, during a break between games of the women's Basketball around 10 pm, I was ready to hit the bangers (sausages) stand within the basketball stadium in the Olympic Park in Stratford. The stand was out of food by then, however, as were all of the other food stands except for the Caribbean one with jerk chicken. No thanks. Bummer. Great planning people. (If you type in dancing sausages on google images, the below is what you get. It's a potentially dangerous search, but fruitful. I added the strikeout.)
At my third and final event, Athletics, I left my seat around 8:30 for a pastie, which is basically like an English empanada. We were met with a huge line but in about 15 minutes we got to the front, only to realize that they were bringing like 5 pasties out of the kitchen at a time. SLOWWWWW. We wanted steak and onion and cornish ones, but all that was available was lamb and mint. Minging. It was actually OK though. It didn't taste much of lamb or mint, but the ground meat and potato combo was filling enough. The whole thing was really freakin' hot, and the dough was quite moist and tasty.
I'm willing to award the Olympics food a silver medal. Pros were a diverse selection ranging from fish and chips to curries. Cons were long lines, high prices, food shortages and poor management. When it comes to stadium food, I'm quite easy to please. Anyone wanna pay me to go to Russia or Rio in the next few years to compare?
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