Monday, November 23, 2009

‘Lil Bites of Heaven

It’s turkey week! Is everyone going bonkers?

Me? Not so much. My apartment’s teeny-tiny, so my mom handles the brunt of the work each and every year, and quite capably I might add. There’s always a gourmet turkey (my favorite was the year she made a Wolfgang Puck turkey and said all the brining ingredients cost more than the turkey); the steadfast standbys; and then a couple exciting new neighbors. Sometimes I bring side dishes to this shindig (Daniel Humm’s Fingerling Potatoes with Dried Figs and Thyme was a huge hit last year); other times I bake cookies.

Tomorrow, I’m planning on making mashed turnips, along with Food and Wine’s creamed spinach with parsnips, and, if I’m feeling lucky, a portabello gravy.

But I get ahead of myself. (Be on the lookout for a post-Thanksgiving wrap-up, as well as a report on Eleven Madison Park, where I was lucky enough to dine this past Saturday.) In my last entry, I promised you cookies. Festive, holiday cookies that for many, many years, got the job done until Tavis’s Ricotta Cookies usurped them. And some days? Well some days, I get a confused feeling deep in my tummy and think maybe I jumped the gun when I pronounced Tavis’s Ricotta Cookies to be better than this gem.

Because there is only one ‘Lil Bite of Heaven.

In truth, the cookie of which I speak is the “Sandbakelse,” a Scandinavian tart-shaped cookie, and it’s been knocking socks off for years, pilgrim. But let’s face it: who can pronounce “Sandbakelse”? And number two, who wants to? A ‘Lil Bite of Heaven’ is wayyyy more accurate.

I found this particular Sandbakelse recipe in one of Martha Stewart’s old Holiday Special magazines (the one where she made an igloo cake out of marzipan). I follow the recipe pretty accurately, except I prefer to fill the tart with warmed apricot-almond jam, instead of the room-temperature, red currant jelly she calls for (I also like a pecan filling, a recipe for another day): I melt apricot jam over the stove to get it nice and soft, and then add a few drops of almond extract to give it the most wonderful, tantalizing taste. But experiment! Choose your own favorite! Add a sweet potato puree! Go crazy! The real reason these little tarts are so delicious is the hint of cardamom: an intense, and exotic, (and expensive—the last bottle I picked up was around $11) spice. No one can quite place it, but everyone tastes something. And then hounds me year after year to make these treashahs again.

‘Lil Bites of Heaven
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Sandbakelse recipe
Makes about 5 dozen

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter as many mini-muffin tins as you’ve got (you’ll need them all)! In a large bowl, beat ½ pound cold, unsalted butter and 1 cup granulated sugar for about 2 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Beat in 1 large egg until smooth. Add 3 cups all-purpose flour (gradually), ¾ teaspoon cardamom, and a pinch of salt: beat until combined.

Roll dough into 1-inch balls; press them into the buttered mini-muffin tins (go halfway up the tin; if the cookie is too deep, the proportions will be off and you’ll just get a mouthful of jam in your ‘lil bite); make a small well with your finger. Do not add the jam yet.

Bake until golden brown, about 18-20 minutes, rotating trays halfway through. Place cookies on a wire rack to cool. Dust with confectioners’ sugar. Fill each well with the jam/filling of your choice. (See above for my notes on apricot almond jam, my preference.)
I hope these are as successful for your Holidays as they have been for mine.

Now what are you waiting for? Back to the turkey and stuffing!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cookies Fit for the Man Who Saved Me from Certain Death

Last week, I had a bit of excitement. I pulled into work and realized that one of my tires was completely flat. Completely. Flatter than the line that registered how dead Jack Bauer was in the middle of Season 2 of 24 after he’s repeatedly tasered by terrorists. There was no way I could drive on it.

Lucky for me, a gentleman at the office offered to change it. His name is Tavis, and he’s just an all-around nice guy. He also for whatever reason has always reminded me of Tony Almeida from 24.

I’ve never had a flat before, so to have someone help me in this situation was a really big deal. I particularly appreciated Tavis’s good deed that afternoon, as he was on his way to a three-hour meeting, but insisted on changing the tire first, thinking it might be dark by the time his meeting was over.

I felt horrible about putting him out: “Tavis, you totally don’t have time to change my tire right now!” I said.

But Tavis pulled out his gun and CTU badge and said:
Do you see what I did there? The cookie is supposed to be Tony Almeida.

I knew what Tavis’s good deed deserved: the most delicious cookie in the whole wide world, The Ricotta Cookie, henceforward known as Tavis’s Ricotta Cookie. It’s wonderful: the ricotta adds moistness, the icing has a hint of almond extract—they also taste great right out of the freezer.

I found the recipe on (it was submitted by “Sandy” – go, Sandy!), and upon baking my very first batch a few months ago, this little cookie instantly commandeered position of my previous favorite cookie in the whole world, “The Lil Bite of Heaven” (I’ll post a recipe for Lil Bites in a week or so – it’s an excellent, festive cookie, perfect for the holidays).

Here are the ingredients you’ll need to make Tavis’s Ricotta Cookies (yields 96 cookies).
For the cookie: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and in a medium bowl cream together: ½ pound of softened butter, 1 ¾ cup white sugar, 2 eggs, 15 ounces of ricotta cheese, and 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl, combine 4 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda. Blend into the creamed mixture.

The next step says to roll the dough into teaspoon-sized balls, and arrange on an ungreased cookie sheet, but the dough is hard to work with at this point. It’s a little sticky:
Instead, roll up the dough in a few pieces of plastic wrap, and refrigerate for an hour or so.
It’ll make it much easier to get to this point:
Bake each sheet 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned.

For the topping: In a small bowl, beat 5 tablespoons milk, 1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar, and 1 teaspoon almond extract until smooth. Spoon the mixture over the warm cookies, and add colored candy sprinkles.
And voila! Check out these manly cookies:
Thanks Tavis for your help last week. It was deeply appreciated.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Rangoli Indian Cuisine: Off the Hookah

Why, what’s this? Could it be… a blog entry?

I’m back everybody! Sorry it’s been so quiet over here. My 8-5:00 has been more like a 6-7:00 this past week, and the focus has been getting that work done for quite some time. However, to celebrate the end of a hectic week, I got the peeps together Saturday evening for what turned out to be just about the coolest get-together ever. All I can say is, my apologies for not alerting you of this event ahead of time. Because this was a classy affair: unbelievably entertaining and an insanely good value.

The venue was Rangoli Indian Cuisine in New Rochelle. I’m always up for Indian, but the restaurant was having a special affair to commemorate Diwali (an Indian holiday celebrating the festival of lights). For $50 per person, guests got to experience: an Indian buffet, open bar, bellydancing, live Sitar and Tabla music, and a bazaar downstairs offering Henna tattooing, Indian jewelry and clothing. The event was brought to my attention by my bellydancing instructor Bina (yep, you heard that right …and we’re moving on), who said she would be performing.

So, while the event has passed, and I realize some of you might’ve appreciated a heads-up as opposed to a re-cap, I’ll try to paint an accurate picture of what we experienced, and be sure to post the next event when it is announced. (I’m told Rangoli hosts live events often).

I arrived at the restaurant at 7:00 p.m. with friend Todd and bellydancing partner-in-crime Tia. There we met my brother Bill and his girlfriend Lori, and friends Erin, Pete, Christina and Chuck. A table had been reserved for our party in a festive-looking dining room, but the real action of the hour was happening at the open bar. Yes! Open bar! $50 per person was the golden ticket to Indian apps, buffet, live entertainment, culture, and ah-ah ah-ah ah-al-co-hol. Of the copious amounts of beverages consumed that evening were: Jack and Coke, Seven and Seven (both were very strong), good quality Pinot, Kingfisher, Heineken …. and cranberry juice for the designated driver. Next to the bar was a generous portion of appetizers, none very recognizable to me. There was a tandoori-looking chicken that was bright green in color instead of red, some type of cake made from grits, something resembling sausage, steamed lentil cakes, and an assortment of chutneys and sauces. Everything was quite tasty.

After a few rounds of drinks and more finger food than necessary, a group of us wandered downstairs to scope out the bazaar. Lovely clothing and jewelry were on hand, but I was immediately drawn to the Henna. I pointed to an intricate design and asked the woman behind the table how much and long it would take to paint. “Ten dollars,” she said. “And only about five minutes.” My girlfriends and I exclaimed over the deal and we all agreed to get tattoos. Sisters forever! I sat down first, and the woman began applying henna paste to my hand using a device similar to an icing tube. Within minutes, a lovely floral pattern emerged. But I was confused. The henna sat on my skin like little raised dots. The woman saw my expression. “Leave it on for about 20 minutes, and then rinse your hand with water,” she explained. “It will be dyed underneath.”

I eyed the delicate, wet dots. “Good luck trying to eat tonight,” I thought to myself sadly, but cheered when the woman added a few more swirls. My girlfriends began to shift uncomfortably, also thinking how difficult it would be to eat. As if on cue, we heard the host upstairs introduce the bellydancers; the excuses followed soon after, then a mass exodus of sisters sans tattoo went up to the dining room.

So whatever: I was the only one with a beautiful semi-permanent Henna tattoo. Monte from the mailroom made me feel a lot better about it at work two days later. (“Good Lord!” he exclaimed when he dropped off the mail. “What happened to your hand?” I told him. “It …looks kind of gross,” he said and then walked away.)

Anyhoo, I rushed back upstairs shortly after my tattoo-less sisters, and took my seat just in the nick of time to see the beautiful and mesmerizing Bina dramatically emerge in full bellydancing garb and Isis Wings.

Talk about a performer. Every eye in the house was on Bina. Watching her dance was reason enough to visit Rangoli. She moved in and out of tables with energy and spirit, captivating and inspiring all. Later, two of Bina’s students joined her on the dance floor.

“This is awesome,” Pete said, smiling from ear to ear, recording every second with his cell phone. “Todd, duck down,” he said, positioning his phone over Todd’s head to get a better view of undulating torsos. I noticed a growing crowd of people outside the restaurant, hands cupped to the window, also trying to get a glimpse of the show.

Then I noticed one of the dancers move toward me. But her hands were outstretched in a beckoning-motion.

Before I even had a chance to panic, I was swaying back and forth with the dancers on the floor, moving to the music, amidst cheers and encouragement from my friends. Next it was Todd’s turn to bust some crowd-pleasing moves, then Lori and Christina’s, followed by other diners who were more than happy to be coerced onto the dance floor. It was amusing to see some of the more timid and reserved-looking guests boogie down. Open bar must’ve really helped with inhibitions because there wasn’t a wet blanket in the room. Just happy, slightly glassy-eyed faces.

Still, the star of the show was unequivocally Bina. There was veil work, there was a cane, there was a sword. That she balanced on her torso. Unbelievable.

“Pete,” Erin said, nudging her fiancé. “Can we come here for my birthday?”

“Absolutely,” he said, still recording. “It’s better and cheaper than Atlantic City.”

After the dancing portion of the evening, the buffet opened. While I realize that this here is a food blog, there was just too much going on to take pictures or really take note of what I was eating. And it all moved fast—by the time I got to the buffet table, the naan was gone, and shrimp and lamb had been strip-mined out of two main dishes (if you were patient enough to wait, all was replenished). I remember enjoying the chicken tikka masala very much, and exclaiming in joy when I saw a bowl of galub jamon balls for dessert.

The restaurant was also very warm, and there was only a small pitcher of water for our table of nine. Factor in alcohol, spicy, unfamiliar food, and our rowdy bunch soon got very quiet.

“My stomach’s angry,” Pete murmured, taking a bite of eggplant.

“Mine too,” said Todd. He loaded his fork full of spicy lentils. “Let’s see if these help.”

Naan somehow found its way to our table, which was wonderful. I also loaded up on a dish that resembled Paneer Saag, but contained baby corn instead of paneer cheese, which was a bit of a disappointment. Still, the food ranged to good to very good, and made me want to come back to Rangoli and have a proper dinner.

Live Sitar and Tabla music carried us through the rest of the evening, as did the restaurant’s extremely gracious hosts. It wasn’t until very late at night that we left the restaurant, tired, full, and exceedingly satisfied.

I was amazed at the care and consideration that went into planning such a special evening. And the value was unmatched. A gratuity was added to our bill (despite the self-service buffet) to make the total about $65 per person, yet I still found the amount under-priced for what we experienced.

I hope to see you at the next celebration!

Rangoli Indian Cuisine
615 Main Street
New Rochelle, NY 10801
(914) 235-1306

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Goldfish: a $15 Lure

What do you make of a place that charges $15 for a three-course dinner, with selections that include scallops and New York Strip steak? Can it be taken seriously? Is there a catch?

The short answer is yes, Goldfish Oyster Bar and Restaurant in Ossining can be taken seriously, and no, there’s no discernible catch: a three-course meal really is $15, Monday through Wednesday night (prices are higher for the rest of the week). And plenty of my food was actually quite good.

Goldfish was brought to my attention by my friend Fran, who was ready to celebrate her latest birthday. For the past few years, the tradition in our core group of five fun-loving gals has been treating the birthday girl to dinner, then splitting the bill amongst the remaining four of us (it’s not rocket science). Our group, however, was temporarily down two of its members (Roisin is a brand new mommy (yay, Roisin!) and Katy is on her way to becoming “Dr. Katy” up in Boston), so for the time being, it was up to Fran, lifelong partner-in-crime Danielle and myself to keep our birthday dinner ritual alive and fabulous. Fran, ever mindful of the bill now being split between two financially-strapped Westchester souls instead of four, declared Goldfish the perfect economic solution.

That’s how I found myself behind the Arcadian Shopping Center off Route 9 on Tuesday night, immediately after work. I arrived at 6:00 p.m., parking in a small lot across the street, which looked very much like a residential street, the restaurant looking very much like a residential house.

Inside, the restaurant is warm, somewhat noisy but inviting. There is a second floor overlooking the downstairs dining room and kitchen (I think there was a wedding reception up there. On a Tuesday), and downstairs, the vibe is somewhere between family friendly dining, and upscale diner. Tables are packed closely together, and there is a countertop where patrons can eat facing the open kitchen. The crowd ranges from younger strapped-for-cash 20 and 30-somethings, to families, to (the dominant demographic on our night) seniors. All seemed happy.

The prix-fixe menu is extensive, with some ambitious offerings.

Check out our appetizers:

I got the Smoked Salmon Platter:
There’s a lot of salmon here! In fact, I received more salmon at Goldfish (and good quality) than I have at other restaurants that charged a whole lot more. Nothing fancy, but delectable.

Danielle got the New England Clam Chowder:
I didn’t try this, but Danielle was very satisfied. She said the soup was creamy, chunky, and the portion was just right.

Fran got Mussels sautéed in a garlic lemon broth
I thought the portion looked generous, but Fran said she remembered it being larger the first time she ate at Goldfish. She was still pleased, though.

For entrees, I ordered the Seared Sea Scallops
Grilled asparagus, herbed potato cake, and Vin Cotto glaze:
Scallop fail. The portion was nicely sized (there were three large scallops) and I did like the taste and presentation of the herbed potato cake (in the back, on the left). But while the scallops looked like they had a decent sear, there was no texture on the outside, so it was kind of like eating… flan. Which isn’t a good thing. Maybe they were undercooked? Which is also not a good thing. The vegetables were well-seasoned and garlicky, but the Vin Cotto glaze might’ve been too sweet for the scallops. This was a disappointment, yet I still feel like I got my $5 worth (how can you lose, really?) because I devoured the potato and the vegetables.

Danielle ordered the Grilled New York Strip Steak
Grilled asparagus (she substituted asparagus for the spinach), another potato cake, and a port wine mushroom sauce:
You can see from the picture that the portion is again pretty substantial for a five note. Yet Danielle being Danielle ordered her steak well done (“extremely well done, No blood at all!”), so it was hard for me to judge the quality and texture of the meat. I will say that for an “extremely well done” order, the meat was pretty tender. And the sauce was good. It kind of reminded me of beef stroganoff. Maybe not a good thing if you’re looking for NY Strip, but I sure am a fan of stroganoff.

Fran’s looks the worst. She got the Cappellini alla Salmone
Arugala, fresh tomato with a light lemon garlic broth:
It actually tasted good once Fran mixed it all together. The presentation was awful. All of the sauce was in the bottom of her bowl, and it looks like dry pasta was added as an afterthought, heaped on top with no seasoning whatsoever. The salmon did look tender and moist once we uncovered it under the pasta, but I thought this was the most inexcusable entrée.

For dessert, the portions were much smaller, yet very delicious:

I ordered the Ricotta Fritters:
The presentation could use some work (that’s a big ol bowl for a spoonful of lemon dipping sauce), but the fritters were scrumptious. They reminded me of the fried donuts you get at Chinese buffets, but the ricotta filling classed it up a little.

Danielle got the New York Style Cheesecake:
I didn’t want to try this because the portion was so small, but Danielle made it a point of telling me over and over and over how good it was.

Fran ordered the Butterscotch Pot De Crème:
This was lovely. Light and sweet, but not too sweet.

In short, old chaps, we got along swimmingly for the evening (you see what I did there? A little Goldfish humor). You can’t beat the value, and even though there were some hiccups during the entrée portion of our night, for the price, and for the selection available, I would heartily recommend Goldfish as a Monday through Wednesday meet up. Just as we discovered some gems in the appetizer and dessert section of the menu, I’m sure there are standouts under the entrée section waiting to be unearthed. And I have no problem forking over $5 until I find them.

Goldfish Oyster Bar and Restaurant
6 Rockledge Ave
Ossining, NY 10562
(914) 762-0051

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Co. (Company)

Things haven’t been so good over at The Good Life this past week. Thankfully, I’ve got the best friends and family in the world, fall foliage that is begging to be photographed, mad poker skillz, drumming precision at Rock Band, and Top Chef to keep me warm Wednesday nights (Restaurant Wars this week, people!). In short, I’ve got a lot going on, so it’s best to keep the writing positive. Take now, for instance: as I type, I am enjoying a Boylan’s Black Cherry soda. It’s terrific! Oh, and also, there’s my college buddy Eileen, who will be turning 30 next month.

Because Eileen is my biggest foodie friend, it’s almost impossible for us to meet up in Manhattan without blowing a small fortune. We both adore the New York restaurant scene and view our get-togethers as precious opportunities to try hip, delicious places. In the past year alone we’ve conquered: Artisanal, Perilla, Anthos, Pearl Oyster Bar, and Corton.

For the past three months, I’ve been waiting to phone Eleven Madison Park in the hopes of scoring a table for Eileen’s big day. To make it until the end of November however, a quick fix was needed. The challenge was for Eileen and me to meet up before EMP, keep our bill under $75, and still make the destination fabulous.

Enter Co. (Company): Jim Lahey’s much-anticipated “gourmet” pizzeria in Chelsea, buzz factor made stronger by all that mouth-watering bread he’s been serving at Sullivan Street Bakery.

Co. is soooo the happening scene right now. It’s got a minimalist décor—long tables, warm wood, and sleek mirrors. It’s actually reminiscent of a sushi bar, yet the ambience is so full of life and energy and hipsters, I don’t think it’ll never be mistaken for anything other than a pizza joint.

When Eileen and I walked in Thursday night, the place was packed. I squeezed past models, college students, and a professor-looking fellow sporting a beret, to ask about the wait. Despite the crowds, the hostess was able to fit us in almost immediately, probably because we were the only party of two waiting (that or my blog is becoming stronger and more powerful than I could ever imagine).

To start, we ordered two salads.

Escarole ($7):
Bread crumbs, capers, anchovies, lemon and olive oil
Radicchio ($7):
Shiitake, taleggio cheese, balsamic and olive oil
Both salads were extremely fresh, a recurring theme for the night. My escarole had such a light, citrusy flavor, not at all weighed down by the anchovies or bread crumbs. Eileen’s radicchio had a snap, the shiitake mushrooms were firm and earthy—my only complaint was that they were a little stingy with the taleggio. I think there were only four cubes.

But who comes to Co. for salads? Let’s talk pizza.

Here is the Popeye ($17):
Pecorino, Gruyere and Buffalo Mozzarrella, spinach, black pepper, and garlic.
And the Stracciatella ($17):
Crushed tomato, black pepper, stracciatella cheese, and arugala.
Our server talked us into the Straciatella, saying it was Co.’s signature pizza—sort of like their version of the Margherita (although they’ve got a Margherita on the menu, too). I was most impressed by how fresh everything was. The arugala tasted as if it had just been picked—peppery and remarkably light, the straciatella (a mixture of mozzarella and cream) created complexity and decadence without weighing the pizza down, and the tomatoes were plump and flavorful. The crust was thicker than I expected—it almost reminded me of a Sicilian—yet it’s way more airy and chewy. My only complaint was that the edges were burnt (charred) in some places. This didn’t seem right for a $17 individual pie.

The Popeye was a great companion. While the Straciatella was light and fresh, the Popeye tasted heavier and more complex. Same crust-action going on (including more burnt edges—c’mon guys), and the combination of cheeses gave a pleasant saltiness. The spinach was masterfully cooked: you could taste the olive oil and garlic, but there was still a crunch and freshness to it. One pie wasn’t better than the other; they were just very different, in all the right ways.

Dessert was pretty lame. Eileen got the Chocolate Breadcrumb Torte ($6):
It could’ve been denser. It actually tasted a little stale.

And I got a small cup of praline gelato ($3):
Meh. It was fine. I put it in my coffee.

Our total for the night was $69.68 (Cokes, coffees, salads and dessert add up). With tip, we blew our $75 goal. But we didn’t really mind. We hung out until almost 10 p.m., had some really great pie (next time, I’d skip the salad and the dessert and get three pies), and soaked up the atmosphere.

A word about the service: incredibly friendly, and once you’re in, you’re in. You won’t be rushed. However, visits to our table were sporadic. Eileen didn’t receive a separate glass for her Coke, and we waited quite a bit for our server to take our dessert orders. If we were in a rush, this could’ve been really annoying, yet that night, I found it refreshing to just sit back and linger.

Co. (Company)
230 9th Ave (at 24th St)
New York, NY 10001
(212) 243-1105

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

San Soo Kap San: Real Deal Korean

Late Saturday morning, while checking my online accounts, I came across a Tweet from my friend Bryant announcing he was going to our favorite Korean BBQ restaurant of all time, San Soo Kap San in Downtown Flushing. “Did my invite get lost in the mail?” I tweeted in reply. “I’ve got nothing going on today except a jones for Korean!” Sadly, Bryant’s tweet had been published 40 minutes prior to my reading, so I figured my reply was hitting nothing but digital ether. Around 11:40, my phone rang. Could I be ready in 20 minutes, asked a still-in-his-apartment-Bryant? If so, him, his wife Karen, and their friend David would be more than happy to swing by. “But if you’re not waiting outside when we get there, we’re all coming in,” he warned. I looked down. I was still in my pajamas. “I can do it!” I said more to myself than to Bryant as I had already hung up the phone and was throwing together an outfit.

A little after twelve, not only was I ready, I had had time grab a bottle of Riesling for the party kind enough to pick me up, and send out one last Tweet: “Guilt trip worked! I’m going too!”

Fast forward to San Soo Kap San, the place of tiny miracles, also known as banchan, dishes which litter diners’ tables before any actual ordered food arrives (think tapas… but free).

There was octopus in a red, tangy sauce; pickled baby bok choy; three types of kimchi in varying degrees of hotness (my favorite was the slightly sweet variety with pickled daikon); red bean rice; some sort of thread-like yellow substance with an intense flavor similar to dried squid; two whole smoked mackerel (heads and all), agar slabs with sesame soy sauce; oh, and one thing that no one ate: raw crab still in its shell with a fiery red sauce on top. It pained me not to try this dish because I love trying new things, but sadly, I couldn’t figure out how to eat this lil critter. I couldn’t break the crab without getting all the hot red goo on my hands, and when I finally did manage to pry a leg open, a smidgen of gelatinous crab gut oozed out. And this smidgen was not chopstick-friendly. Instead, it kind of just hung out on my plate and looked nasty.

What did we actually order? There were pan-fried dumplings similar to Japanese gyoza:
Rice cake soup:
This is one of my favorite comfort foods—miso broth, pork, scallions, and oval-shaped gummy treasures of rice, which don’t have much of a taste, just a pleasant, chewy texture.

David also insisted on a bowl of bibimbap:
Warm white rice, seaweed, enoki mushrooms, shiitake, bellflower root, burdock root, squash, some other unidentifiable stuff, all topped with a raw egg (it cooks when you add it to the steaming mixture), and sprinkled with a chili pepper mixture. A fine choice.

To cook over the gas grill were orders of Bulgogi (a thinly-sliced beef):
... and butterflied shrimp, all delightfully seasoned with soy sauce, sugar, garlic, and a bit of rice wine vinegar. These proteins can be cooked and eaten straight up or placed on provided lettuce wraps, which are then lined with any or all of the following: fermented soybean dressing, pickled daikon, garlic, and hot peppers. The grill-action is sublime. None of us are strangers to the bulgogii or pork (the bulgogii is cooked first, everyone promptly declares it sensational, but then the pork comes out, and suddenly everyone remembers that the pork sooooo trumps the bulgogii). This time, however, Karen’s wildcard-order of shrimp usurped just about everything on the table. Perfectly grilled, incredibly succulent—‘twas sensational.

To drink is complimentary barley tea. It’s heartier and nuttier than (but slightly reminiscent of) genmaicha (green tea with the little pieces of popcorn and brown rice). For dessert: standard orange slices.

Here’s some additional banchan on San Soo: the joint is open 24-hours, which makes it an ideal stop for hungry cabbies or the late-night snack attack; the atmosphere is pretty basic (this is not a place you frequent for ambience); the menu is difficult to read, made all the more tricky by servers who speak limited English; parking is a beeeatch—there’s a big lot across the street, but good luck finding a spot or deciphering the color-coded spots; prices are refreshingly cheap (we ordered a massive amount of food and the bill for our table-of-four was about $90); and the surrounding area is great for exploring candy shops, bubble tea, and Asian specialty stores.

If the above sounds intriguing, and you’re looking for real-deal-Holyfield Korean, give San Soo Kap San a shot. Heck, the worst that could happen is you will get utterly and completely lost in Flushing, have no clue as to where to park if you actually find the garage, experience a Lost in Translation moment if you make it to the restaurant, and then end up with plate after plate raw, gray, gelatinous crab.

But really: it’s fabulous.

(Special thanks to David for deciphering some of the stuff we ate!)

San Soo Kap San
38-13 Union St
Flushing, NY 11354
(718) 445-1165

Monday, September 28, 2009

Morton’s The Steakhouse

Saturday night, my mom, my brother Bill and Bill’s girlfriend Lori took advantage of Morton’s $49.99 steak and seafood dinner in White Plains. Suffice it to say, we had a smashing time, but that might’ve had more to do with the fact that we are a bunch of fun, crazy peeps than anything stellar going on with the service.

Because service was bad: our servers were extremely aggressive and pushed multiple items from the regular menu even though we specifically requested the $49.99 menu ahead of time. And even though we asked for the menu once again upon being seated, our server still felt the need to wheel over a cart and do a five-minute spiel, which involved slowly and deliberately showcasing each cut of meat, lovingly caressing a few potatoes and tomatoes, and completely unnecessarily picking up a wriggly Maine lobster. By the end, Bill and Lori (who had still not seen the $49 menu), were utterly confused and overwhelmed as to what they could and couldn’t order to stay in the $49 set price. There was a lot of, “You could do this, but for an extra $19, you could do this…,” and “Then there’s this, which is an additional $24…” and some roundabout answers. After her spiel, our server left us with regular menus that made no mention of the steak and seafood dinner. When we asked for the special menus again, she disappeared, and came back with two tiny cards for our table of four: all that she could find, she explained.

The timing was really bad, too. Not the actual arrival of courses (this was well-paced), rather, we were constantly being interrupted in such a way where there was no regard for what was going on at our table. “Can I refill that cranberry juice for you?” a server asked three times of my half-full glass, each time interrupting me mid-conversation. Finally, a different server just took the same half-full glass without asking. But took it to clear it, not refill it. The worst and most uncomfortable moment came after dinner. Even though our table had already ordered desserts at the beginning of the meal, the dessert cart was wheeled in and our server once again laboriously began describing each dish. My mom and my brother did not see her appear and were still mid-conversation. Our server, undeterred, just talked a mili-decibel louder. I kicked my mom under the table, and she looked up, genuinely surprised and confused to see our server describing a berry plate.

“Miss?” I said hesitantly. “We already ordered desserts.”

She paused.

“Oh, I know. I was just showing you these for next time.” A carrot cake description commenced.

When she was finished, she gave a little nod, and wheeled the cart away. Our table sat in silence.

“That was weird,” my brother said finally.

“Weird” is a good way to describe the night as a whole. Although service was bad (made all the worse when you are marketing yourself as a high-end steakhouse with premium prices), “bad” certainly was not the case for the food.

Although stellar wasn’t the word, either.

We’ll start with the complimentary bread, a poofy, warm onion loaf:
This was bloody fantastic. Sounds like a bit of a dig to say the bread was one of the more memorable things I ate that night, but all I’m trying to say is that I really, really, really liked this bread. It could win an award.

Next were four Morton’s salads:
Iceberg lettuce, creamy Caesar dressing, anchovies and chopped egg. What’s not to love? (Well, normally, I’m not a fan of Iceberg, but here it was refreshing and crisp.) And anchovies and eggs? And lots of Caesar dressing, so that each piece of lettuce is blanketed in dressing yet still crisp? Mmmmmm…

Next came our single cut filets, accompanied by a choice of seafood:

First, the crabcake:
I didn’t try this, but Lori said it actually had a lot of crab, so she was satisfied.

The bacon-wrapped scallop:
I stole a piece from Bill and this was the winner. The scallops were extremely tender and juicy, and nicely seared on the outside.

…and the Colossal Shrimp Alexander:
Pretty good. But the shrimp was actually… stringy? Could a vein have been left in? How is a shrimp stringy? I don’t know.

Here’s the best picture I could get of my single-cut filet:
I know, the pic isn’t a winner, but alas, neither was the filet. It was certainly very tender, but there was not a lot of flavor, and no one at the table found it particularly memorable.

The $49 menu had said that “sides” were either a potato or a vegetable, yet once we arrived, the server informed us that anything off of the regular “side” menu was fair game.

My mom and I had mapped out our battle plan ahead of time, which involved my mom ordering the potato and splitting it with me, while I would cut my steamed vegetable in half, and share it with her. In a fit of excitement, I went rogue and ordered the creamed spinach:
But the joke was on me, because the creamed spinach was not my favorite. Is was too creamy, not salty enough, and tasted of too much nutmeg.

My mom still split her Jumbo-baked Idaho potato with me because she is the best. But to get me back, she cut it in half and began eating it before I had taken a suitable picture:
The potato is very good at Morton’s. What I didn’t appreciate was the tiny, spoonful of sour cream the server plopped on the massive potato, meant to last us the whole potato. Why not leave the sour cream on the table?

Here is an artful picture of the grilled asparagus, taken by Lori:
Our server warned us that the asparagus was prepared with a balsamic vinegar glaze, but the glaze hadn’t been reduced enough. It was still very vinegary, not very sweet, and as a result, no one really liked this dish.

Dessert was way more delicious, and accompanied by outstanding Douwe Egbert’s coffee.

Morton’s Legendary Hot Chocolate Cake is absolutely deserving of its name. Normally, I’m not a big fan of chocolate cake, much preferring a pie or a pastry, yet this cake is wonderful. The chocolate oozes out of the center when you cut into it, it’s moist, it’s gooey—I would order it again in a heartbeat.
But when would I order it again? Morton’s is expensive. The food was fine for the price we paid —our final bill was a little over $70 per person (with tax and tip) because we ordered the promotion. But on a normal night, I’d be surprised if you could have a meal for less than $100. And then I’d start scrutinizing my dishes even more. “Fine” won’t cut it when I’m paying such a premium. And then there’s the service. We might’ve had a totally different experience with a considerate, more personable server. But nothing about Morton’s service set it apart, rather, it cast an amateur-hour tint on the evening.

Morton’s The Steakhouse
9 Maple Avenue
White Plains, NY 10605

Monday, September 21, 2009

Chocolate-Chip Cookies

Let’s call this entry what it really is: good old fashioned stalling for time. I’m behind on my blog, and wanted to give you fellas a little somethin somethin for being so kind as to pay me a visit. So, while I baked my favorite chocolate chip cookies this weekend, I snapped a few pictures and voila! Bloggin gold, baby.

No, in all seriousness, these are good cookies. They come from Kathleen’s Bake Shop, the same cookbook that gave you Blueberry Buckle, my most popular blog entry ever. And who doesn’t need a bangin recipe for Chocolate-Chip Cookies? These are ultra thin, slightly crisp, and chewy in the center. They are soothing, they are decadent, they will make the guy you are trying to impress go wild when he samples one on the picnic you are packing for him.


Onto the cookies.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease your cookie sheets (this recipe yields about 50 cookies).

In a large bowl, mix 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt.

In another large bowl, cream 1 cup of butter and ¾ cup granulated sugar and ¾ cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar. Add 1 teaspoon water and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and mix until just combined. Add 2 eggs. Stir in the previous flour mixture. Fold in 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips, but “don’t overmix!” Kathleen cautions.

Place batter onto greased cookie sheets leaving at least 2 inches of room between the cookies.
Bake for 12 minutes, or until the edges and center of the cookie are brown. Cool on a wire rack.

...and then stack them up like so, just because it’s fun: