Rainy day beach feast

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You know, just a colorful day at the beach.

If I’m at the beach and the sun is out in all its glory and so am I, letting it all (or most of it) hang out in a bikini and sunglasses,  I try to watch what I eat. (Puppy belly’s not a sexy look for me.)

But if I’m at the beach and the sky fills with dark clouds and then bursts open with buckets of rain, the way it did last time I was at the beach with friends, the only thing to do is head for cover… and food.  Since we were near the cluster of food stalls on Rockaway Beach’s boardwalk at 97th St., that’s where we ran, huddled under umbrellas while the rain blew in sideways.

There were lobster rolls, arepas, grilled cheese sandwiches and tacos, each stall sounding more appealing than the last, but it was the farthest one, the one tucked away at the very end, that we beelined to: the Bolivian Llama Party. (I told you I love llamas, no?)

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Nachos, Bolivian style.

First out were our Bolivian nachos, a gorgeous, colorful mountain of quinoa tortilla chips and plantain chips under and over pools of black beans, creme fraiche, cheese sauce, scallions, Llajua (a fiery Bolivian hot sauce) and magenta hued pickled onions. And to make a good thing great my friend added pulled pork. While I’m a fan of good ol’ fashioned lowbrow nachos, these were a fun twist, full of zest, flavor and spice.

To take our rain induced gorging up a notch (or three), we ordered the enormous triple pork sandwich, a delicious behemoth of tender roasted pig, thick-cut home cured bacon, and my favorite indulgence, pork belly, this one with just the perfect crackling edges to complement the fatty meat. Topping it all was a spicy mayo like sauce, shredded pickled carrots and cilantro, making this one of the messiest yet most-worth-the-juices-running-down-your-arm sandwiches I’ve encountered.

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A hot mess… in the sloppiest, best ways

For good measure, we also had a few orders of BLP’s papitas, or fries, some of the cilantro kind, crunchy and piping hot, tossed in garlic, white wine and pecorino and drizzled with a bright green sauce made from quiquina, a Bolivian cilantro, and then the queso papitas, also crispy and crusty, coated in a thyme, salt and aji mix.

We needed something to wash down all those delicious carbs and calories, so we also tried both of BLP’s homemade sodas, the golden maracuya, a bright, bubbly passion fruit lemonade and the I-want-a-lip-color-like-this mora-hibiscus soda made from blackberries and hibiscus flowers.

Sure, no one’s tan was any better than at the start of the day, and our hair was more rained-on frizzy than wind-swept beach wavy, but our bellies were happy and full, and mercifully hidden under our rain-spattered shirts.

Mission (Chinese Food) Accomplished

Man oh man do I love the satisfaction that comes with crossing off things on my to-do lists. Even better still when that satisfying feeling of completion comes along with the happy, stuffed high of a great, big delicious meal.

Such was the case earlier this week when a friend and I finally, after talking about it over and over and meaning to go for the past year or so, went to Mission Chinese Food, the tiny, much-raved about Americanized Chinese food joint made famous in San Fran and now also located in the Lower East Side.

Dinner service starts at 5:30pm and hungry folks line up outside before the door’s even unlocked and neon sign turned on just to claim one of the few spots in the no-reservations restaurant. Right there in that line, was us, ready to scarf down our hipster Chinese grub version of an early bird special. Even though I hate early dinners, especially when the sun’s still out, I’d gladly do it again because the food totally, if you ask me, lived up to the hype.

Chili margarita

Chili margarita

To celebrate our success at A.) getting our acts together and finally making it to the restaurant and B.) actually getting seated right away, we ordered ourselves some drinks. The chili margaritas, with their orangey pink color, citrusy bite and toasted chili kick were the perfect way to start things off.

Mapo ramen

Mapo ramen

Food at Mission Chinese comes out as the kitchen finishes it and for us, first out was the mapo ramen, a generous bowl of fatty pork broth, seaweed, coddledegg, mapo tofu and ramen noodles. Like many of the dishes here, this one wasn’t shy about being packed with bright bold flavors and a fiery kick that had me breaking out in full on nose sweats. (You know, when the bridge of your nose beads up with spicy food induced sweat. Not exactly my best look.)

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Why yes, I am a Fat Pig

Sometimes I really over do it. Total overkill in the eating department. Really.

Saturday night at Brooklyn’s Fette Sau, a small, buzzy barbecue joint in Williamsburg where people gladly wait 30 to 40 minutes—outsidejust to get their grubby little fingers on smokey flavored, dry rubbed meat and cold beers was one of those nights. It was one of those nights and then some.  It was not for the weak of heart, the dainty of diets, the graceful, the delicate, the disciplined, and certainly NOT for the non-carnivores.

For size reference, each one of these trays is about 2 ft. wide. So yea, that’s a whole lotta meat piled on there.

There were four of us: three girls, one guy. To eatbrace yourselves cause this is where  things get out of handthere were two giant, paper-lined metal serving trays topped with a pound of pork belly, a pound of beef brisket, a pound of pulled pork,  four generously sized pork sausages, six soft potato rolls, a heap of tangy cole slaw, and a tub of baked beans the size of my studio apartment’s kitchen sink. Oh and for good measure, there was also a small key lime pie tart (just about the only thing we didn’t go hog-wild in ordering).

All joking aside, a good 24+ hours later I was STILL full. Really! It was such an intense amount of food, so much sticky fingered, saucy (meat was all served without, but there were an assortment of bottles at the table),  smokey, gut-sticking, artery clogging goodness. The only thing I was less than crazy about was the pork belly which was a bit on the fatty side (though I guess it’s to be expected of BELLY!) but everything else was delicious. So much so that no one could stop digging in, arms crossing over the table, scooping, squirting, sandwiching, dripping, slopping. Oh! It was gluttonous and awful and… incredible.

I spent the rest of the night (and most of the following day) in a pork and beef induced haze, feeling fat and slow, repulsed by the mere thought of food.

And the best part? Fette Sau means “fat pig” in German. Appropriate? You bet your fat ass.

Food lust

One bite in and it hit me. Pure, unadulterated joy. My whole body tensed up, my eyes squeezed shut, and inside my boots, my toes curled. It took everything in me not to slam my open palm down on the table over and over, screaming “Yes! Yes! Yeeeesss!”

Dinner at The Spotted Pig was a series of foodgasms, one right after the other. One had barely subsided when oh, wait, maybe, ohmygodohmygodohmygod BAM! Another one.

Sage and anchovy crisps

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When the going gets cold, the cold get soup

Hate the cold? Quit your bitching and get some soup.

Twice last week, I woke up to a city blanketed in fresh snow. On Monday, I walked to work, wrapped up to my ears in a thick scarf, while my fingers, though gloved and burrowed in my pocket, went numb.  At 8:30am, the thermometer struggled to creep up into the double digits.

Today, the snow was back, swirling in pretty white gusts outside my window, big fat snowflakes fluttering by dizzyingly.

Needless to say, winter is in full force in New York, and while some people absolutely hate it and are already counting down the days to spring, I for one, am enjoying it.  And why would I not, when there’s so much good soup to be had! Continue reading

Just when you thought pork belly couldn’t get better…

Little nuggets of deliciousness

It doesn’t get more diabolically delicious than fat little chunks of juicy pork belly, battered and deep fried and topped off with Maker’s Mark infused maple syrup. I mean really. Really! Did you process that? Pork belly donuts, people. Pork belly freakin’ donuts. It’s almost wrong how gluttonously awesome I think this is. Almost.

These tender mouthfuls of pork belly, moist and fluffy in their little coats of batter and syrup, were courtesy of  The Sycamore, a funky, laid-back bar in the Mission (where thanks to food like this I now regret not living in). To sell these at a place that focuses on alcohol is just pure evil genius. I’d have a hard time turning these down sober, but put so much as one drink in me and chances are I’m gonna be wolfing these down by the dozen.

Lucky for them they come in orders of six and I was splitting them with two other people. But next time, pork belly donuts? I don’t think you’ll be so lucky.

The importance of appetizers

Appetizers are the foreplay of meals. Great appetizers get you in the mood, they get you excited about what else lays in store for you. Similarly, bad appetizers can get things off to a bad start, leaving you wondering if the rest your experience will be any better. Sure, you can recover from a bad appetizer with a good entree but those points will always be deducted from the overall performance.

Last week, Flaneur and I, enjoying our last days together in New York, went on a serious restaurant bender. I don’t think we ate at home the whole week. It was glorious. One night, we went to Momofuku Ssäm Bar, which had long been on our to-do list. While everything we ate at this East Village hot spot was mouthwatering in its perfection, it was the appetizers that really did it for me.

Bread and butter is a pretty standard pre-entrée feature at most restaurants, from high-end to low, but the bread and butter on this menu was anything but average. Two warm, toasted baguettes came with two ramekins: one with a creamy, pale yellow butter mixed with sea salt and the other…oh, the other… that little ramekin of deliciousness… brace yourself… was filled with whipped lard.

Bread and butter... but better

Yes, lard. Those of you reading this will fall into two distinct groups. Some of you will be horrified. You’re thinking, “Ugh, she’s finally gone too far. She’s eating straight up fat now.” The rest of you I hope, will have had lard before and will now that in small doses and executed correctly, it can be a wonderful, amazingly delicious thing to be savored and drooled over. I felt like the first group until I lived in Italy and was given a crunchy piece of toast straight out of the oven with a thin, translucent slice of lard melting over it. It was simultaneously one of the fattiest and most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. But whipped lard? We’d never heard of that before, but it seemed like a good idea. And it was. At first, we were civilized, using the butter knife to delicately spread the lard over the toast, but after the second or third piece, both of us were using the bread to scoop big globs of lard, leaving the ramekin shiny and clean. Continue reading

Cambodian sandwiches: another fantastic find

Dreams of pursuing a career in journalism are what brought me to New York, but it’s the food that’s keeping me here.

Plenty about this city has disillusioned me and frustrated me since I moved here, but the food? Never. This city’s eats have been my rock. I know that no matter how stressful my job gets, how quickly my paycheck disappears, or how freakishly close my bedroom walls seem to be to each other, I can go anywhere in the city and find something good to eat. And for someone who often seeks comfort in food, that’s a godsend.

Five spiced pork belly with pickled Asian pear

What amazes me about New York is the variety of food it offers and the places to find it. From five star restaurants with celebrity chefs and impossible reservation lists to the dodgy hole-in-the-wall places, there’s always something good. Just this week I ate somewhere that was so great and so unassuming that even though I had been griping all day about random things, everything was cleared from my head and all I could think of was, “God I love this city.” (Someone cue Jay-Z and Alicia Keys.)

My friend Vanessa, a consistent source for fun things in New York, suggested I try a little sandwich shop nearby called Num Pang. Cambodian sandwiches, she said, and I was sold. Though she didn’t come with, I did have my usual sidekick there with me, my adventurous-eater boyfriend.

I ‘d been warned the place was small but I was still surprised by how tiny it was: just a walk-up window, with a spiral staircase leading to a few seats and a stand-up bar. As we finished giving the guy our order, a group of people poured down the stairs, emptying the place out and leaving the whole seating area to just Flaneur and me. (Win.)

Grilled skirt steak with crushed coriander and peppercorn

A few minutes later, when our order was called, Flaneur ran downstairs to get our food. I clapped my hands together and rubbed them in excited preparation. These bad boys looked good.

Now, I’ve always been a little iffy about pork belly but ever since having it at Fatty Crab, I’ve become a fan. When I saw it listed with the specials, I had to have it. Plus, it came with pear, which happens to be my favorite fruit at the moment. The sandwich came on a pretty, mini baguette and was toasted to a nice crispiness so that every bite had that great, satisfying crunch of perfectly toasted bread. Inside, the pork belly was juicy and tender and paired nicely with the sweetness of the pickled pear. To add extra kick to the equation, there was zesty parsley, thin slices of cucumber, and a delicious spicy (but not too spicy) mayonnaise. If ever there was a prize for successfully mixing of colors, tastes and textures, this sandwich would get it.

Flaneur, meanwhile, was working on his sandwich of grilled skirt steak. Served on the same crunchy, warm baguette, his had large chunks of the crushed coriander and peppercorn covered steak jutting out from underneath the bread. More parsley, sliced cucumbers and shredded carrots complemented the meat.

Not your standard corn on the cob...

We finished our sandwiches, enjoying the last bits of it as we picked up stray crumbs and licked spicy mayo off our fingers. The grilled corn on the cob had been recommended so we got one to share. Vanessa had said it was really good but when we unwrapped it, I knew it would be better than expected. A bright yellow corn on the cob except for a few browned kernels from where it had almost been burned was covered in a thick coating of more spicy mayo,  chili powder and coconut flakes. It was loud and intense, both in appearance and taste. The creaminess of the mayo mixed in with the meatiness of the corn and the slight hint of sweetness from the coconut to make for a wildly delicious to our Cambodian dinner.

With Flaneur by my side, I walked home, full and happy, my mouth slightly tingling from all the chili mayo, and thought to myself, “Dammit New York, you won me over, all over again.”

A “Fatty” good time

When your boyfriend is allergic to shellfish it’s probably not the best idea to go somewhere with “crab” in the name. And I knew that, but after the first time I ate at Fatty Crab (without him) I knew I had to go back and bring him with me. He’s my eating partner in crime and not sharing it with him would’ve made me a terrible person.

Figuring that never in a million years would we be able to snag a table for Valentine’s Day on Sunday, we tried our luck on Saturday and succeeded. The wait at the West Village Fatty Crab was only 30 minutes and knowing what we were about to get into, I was more than happy to wait less than an hour.

Flaneur wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I told him we were having Malaysian but as we were led to our table, sandwiched between two others about an inch apart on each side, I was so giddy I was practically bouncing in my seat.

The waiter came by and gave us the standard schpeel: they serve stuff as it’s done in the kitchen, so no requesting this first and that second. You get it when it’s ready. But most importantly, most things on the menu contain peanut or shellfish products, so heads up to anyone with allergies.

Flaneur shot me a look of terror. We explained our dilemma to the waiter who in turn gave me a look that said “Really, lady? Did you guys not read CRAB in the name?” But I wasn’t going to let a silly allergy stop us, so I scanned the menu, picked a few things that didn’t have shellfish explicitly listed as ingredients and then ran them by the waiter who confirmed that we should be ok with those.

Flaneur still looked worried but we went on anyway.

Neither words nor pictures can do this dish any justice.

First out was our appetizer: the mind-blowing, I-don’t-care-how-many-calories-are-in-this-cause-it’s-so-good-it’s-worth-two-hours-on-the-treadmill pickled watermelon and crispy pork salad. Don’t let the salad part fool you. This was NOT the average lettuce creation. Far from it. Salad here meant thick chunks of juicy, red watermelon topped with crispy-on-the-outside, melt-in-your-mouth soft-on-the-inside pork belly. The salad part of it was probably referring to the bit of greens on top, which to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t even say what they were (lemon grass maybe?) because I was so completely possessed by the watermelon-pork combo. I imagine this is what they must serve in heaven (although I’m sure there’s also a vegetarian option).

Spicy never felt so good.

I could’ve called it a night at that point and happily skipped home, but luckily before we had even finished the “salad,” our next plate was out: a house specialty, the Fatty Duck. A note here: if you like spicy food, this is the thing to get. Chunky strips of soft, juicy duck topped with a small mountain of chopped tangy, fiery peppers, all atop a bed of white tamaki rice. Eating this just makes you feel more exotic, and once all those flavors start dancing around in your mouth and the heat from the peppers starts tingling in your throat and synuses, you could almost swear that you’ve been transported to some lush Malaysian jungle somewhere. It’s one of those dishes that makes you stop after every bite and look in awe at the person you’re eating with and say, “This is SO…damn…good. I can’t believe how good this is.” You go on chomping away, wondering what bit of karma brought you to this wonderful place and this amazing duck.

Flaneur, who’s tolerance for spicyness is on the weak side, danced on the thin line between pleasure and pain. Between  long  gulps of beer and water to soothe what must’ve felt like an actual fire scorching his insides, he managed to get out a few words, “Ohmygodthisisdelicious!” I was afraid he was about to spew fire like some mythical dragon, but thankfully our next dish came soon after, like the fire engine pulling up to the burning house just in time.

Chicken soup for the fatty's soul.

Pushing glasses and plates around like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, we made room for our third and final Fatty specialty: the chicken claypot. As its name suggests, a claypot of ginger, chicken and tofu soup was wedged on to our table along with a bowl heaped with coconut rice. After the intense heat of the duck, which we were still working on when the claypot arrived, the soup was calming and smooth, like good chicken soup should always be. Tender fat pieces of chicken bobbed around with tofu in the zesty broth, and the coconut rice went perfectly either mixed in or by itself. (I tried it both ways, duh.) Just the rice, which you’d think being standard white rice wouldn’t be anything to write home about, was amazing. This  fluffy, sweet coconut rice was good enough to eat whole bowls of.

So even though we had to shy away from Fatty Crab’s famed shellfish plates because of Flaneur’s allergies, everything was so ridiculously good that I’m declaring this one of my favorite places to eat, not just in New York, but overall. And really, with Fatty in the name, we’re pretty much a perfect match.

Fatty Crab in New York