Friday, February 27, 2009

eating: bad for you

It's a dangerous world out there these days. After receiving a series of complaints from diners feeling "unwell" Heston Blumenthal has temporarily closed the Fat Duck (via diners journal).

And, last week, Payard failed health inspections and was shut down for a couple days.

For a bit of good restaurant news via SF Eater, my favorite local restaurant Aziza was re-reviewed by the Bauer and given a 3.5 star rating. Mourad's food is so special, and the cocktail menu is always an exercise in interesting pairings. I find it interesting that MB comments on the white plates because, for me (unless it's changed recently) it's the beautiful Heath plates that I recall.

While there are some things I'd love to see updated, like the pastry bag squeeze-piles of dips for the flatbread mezze, the flatbread itself is pillowy and perfect, and my main courses have always been interesting, flavorful and complex.

MB's review was less flowery than usual, but leaves such nuggets as the following: "a neat pile of berries and a smear of purple sauce resembling the tail of a comet. " Oy.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

bklyn: believing the hype?

There's a sign over the Kosciuszko Bridge that brings you to the Brooklyn part of the BQE, and since traffic is likely crawling, you have ample opportunity to read it.

Believe the Hype

Exclamation point included.

Reading the recent New York Times article about artisan slow food production in Brooklyn, and the quasi-fallout in follow-up Q&A responses (all found on the excellent Diners Journal blog) made me think of that sign.

My neighborhood, northmost Brooklyn, was an enclave of Polish shops and restaurants, where old men filled quiet park benches and you could buy 99 cent bars of Milke chocolate at the Key Foods. Twenty blocks south, the main drag of Bedford was already littered with foodie nooks like the Bedford Cheese shop mentioned in the original
NYT article. Brooklyn Lager was on tap in every bar, and the brewery offered frequent tours and tastings. Hipsters nestled in an uneasy corridor of a southside Williamsburg home to latins and Orthodox Jews. Further south still, Spike Lee's neighborhood was once again a safe place to live and I skirted my bicycle across the oceans, down a slight stretch of Flatbush and around Prospect Park, sometimes grabbing a coffee from Gorilla Coffee and lingering in Park Slope before skirting home through Bed-Stuy.

In those days Brooklyn still had pockets of old-time, authentic cultural traditions, though in my own neighborhood I had the vague sense that it was all being edged out. Institutions like Peter Luger's sat hulking under the train tracks while entrepreneurs named their bars after the institutions formerly occupying the space (Pete's Candy Store, Union Pool). Even the "new" Brooklyn feels old, though maybe that's just all the brick buildings. I wasn't surprised by the Times article. It's been 8 years, if not more, in the making, for North Brooklyn. And I wasn't surprised by the response, a mix of people genuinely excited, and other pointing out, patiently and not-so-much, that the bklyn of hype need not forget its own histories.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

a native's guide to boston

having spent the vast majority of my life in the great state of massachusetts, I am not going to tell you to do the Freedom Trail, Faneuil Hall, or any other such historical-interest thing. I can advise on where to eat, what the locals do, and how to understand them. Above all, it's best to keep in mind that New Englanders tend to keep their business to themselves and expect you to do the same. First rule of New England: Connecticut doesn't count. Neither does anything south of New York.

Should you find yourself in Boston, you can and should do the following:

*the Museum of Science is a very fun place, as is the New England Aquarium. Singlehandedly either could beat the Cal Academy of Sciences to a bloody pulp, but among the many things to enjoy count an amazing three story tank with tortoises, large sharks, and awesome fish, a retro electricity show, chicks hatching live, snake handlers, tons o' taxidermy, an otter tank, and neat views.

* the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum is most famous for having Rembrandts + a Vermeer stolen and never recovered. That said it's got an amazing courtyard, great wallpaper, unique furniture, and this incredibly intimate feeling that most other museums don't.

* the MFA...I've seen and re-seen their permanent collection, which is pretty heavy on Impressionist and early American works (Winslow Homer, etc.). I still love the MFA. Their special exhibits are usually awesome also. I've seen over the years art deco, Monet, John Singer Sargent, Herb Ritts, el Greco-->Velasquez, David Hockney, the quilts of Gee's Bend, and many other exhibits.

places to eat:
*Clio (Hynes Convention Center): ken oringer. boston's foray into molecular gastronomy
*The Butcher Shop + Stir (Back Bay): barbara lynch's charcuterie and cheese shop + cookbook bookstore.
*No. 9 Park (Park St.): Barbara Lynch's original restaurant
*Oleana (Central): Ana Sortun is amazing.
*Sofra: Ana and Maura's bakery. The cookies are just incredible, and I'm not a cookie person.
*Clearflour: one of the three good bakeries, this one specializing in bread and laminates doughs.
*Hi-Rise (Harvard): my favorite of the three good bakeries, with delicious sandwiches. Do get the toast basket for breakfast and use lots of maple butter. The corn bread is excellent. If in Harvard, sit upstairs with coffee and food and feel like you're in an old timey schoolhouse.
*Sibling Rivalry (Back Bay): the brothers Kincaid duel different riffs on a shared item (a protein or veg). Everything I've had there had been quite good, and they used to have a rockstar pastry chef.
*Tealuxe (Copley/Harvard): tea and crumpets.
*Pinocchio's (Harvard): zucchini sicilian pizza, i miss you so terribly much!
*East Coast Grille (Central): now that Green St. Grille has taken a turn for the worse, East Coast reigns supreme for Carribean food, plantain goodness and fish. It gets very crowded and takes no reservations.
*Ten Tables (Stonybrook): it has only ten tables. i've heard nothing but good things.
*Craigie Street (Harvard): snooty waiters, fine French food.
*Darwin's (Harvard): sandwiches + soups for the 02138 intellectual. The Hubbard Park remains my fave sandwich, and do get some cape cod potato chips on the side.
*Redbones (Davis): pulled chicken sandwich with sweet sauce + mild sauce, and corn fritters with the bar regulars, a pint of something from the thirty beer wheel...this place sustained me through grad school!
*Helmand (Lechmere): Afghan pumpkin, eggplant, breads and delicious sauces. Get the meat, if you want, but it really isn't necessary.

places to get ice cream, and coffee:
*Herrell's (Harvard): if they have bourbon vanilla or chocolate peppermint, do indulge. The others flavors are delicious also.
*Toscanini's (Central): more purist than Herrell's (the inspiration to Ben and Jerry), people quite like the hazelnut.
*Christina's (Central): They serve malted vanilla. What more can I say? Christina's supplies plenty of restaurants (including Harvest) with fine quality ice cream.
*Espresso Royale (Copley/Hynes): your best option on Newbury, imho.
*JP Licks (Hynes/Stonybrook/Davis): my favorite for a long time was the oatmeal cookie froyo with caramel sauce. delicious. One day I was lucky enough to sample noodle kugel ice cream.
*Diesel (Davis): grad school writing dates, bright colors, and sceney lesbians.
*Dunkies: an institution that must be honored.

*The Boston Public Library (Copley) has a beautiful courtyard, John Singer Sargent murals, and now you can eat there, too.
*The Public Gardens/Boston Common (Park/Boylston/Arlington): Make Way For Ducklings + The Trumpeter Swan = YA classics.
*Fenway Park (Fenway/Kenmore): needs no introduction or explanation. Believe.
*Mt. Auburn Cemetery/Forest Hills Cemetery: Frederic Law Olmstead's cities of the dead.
*Arnold Arboretum (Forest Hills): sometimes rambling, sometimes manicured, always lovely.
*the Longfellow House (Harvard): lovely colonial house, nice gardens, vintage poet.

There are entire cities left uncovered. Harvard as an Educational Institution/Necessary Evil, or any other place of education, is unmentioned. JFK library, ditto. I make no mention of Allston, Brighton, Brookline, Southie, Dot, Roxbury, Chinatown, the North End, the suburbs, the beaches, the shopping, or the nightlife, though Somerville, JP and the South End do receive scant mention.

A couple of final tips:
1. the drivers are crazy.
2. the pedestrians are crazy.
3. dunkies is frequently a navigational tool.
4. don't mock the accent.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

i need something new to read

...because I think I've worked my way through the following, not all of whom I completely love...or even like...but have indeed read.

Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Lethem, Michelle Tea, Stacy D'Erasmo, Junot Diaz, Alison Bechdel, Adrian Tomine, George Saunders, Michael Chabon, Carole Maso, Ali Liebegott, Scott Heim, TC Boyle, Charles Baxter, Michael Cunningham, AM Homes, Jeanette Winterson, David Sedaris, Amy Bloom, and most feted short story collections of the recent past.

I haven't read the new Jhumpa Lahiri. I haven't read much Steve Almond (somehow...I must never leave the house). I have decided on this long-awaited piece and this hole in my collection.

Currently reading some Dashiel Hammett. Probably not good for my general blend of cynicism and anxiety.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

dee's mini organic doughnuts

Has anyone tried Dee's minis?

I spotted them at Philz the other day and again today at the Andronico's. They're small cake doughnuts, about the size of a Dunkies munchkin. They have colorful glazes, and come in flavors like raspberry, maple and cinnamon sugar.

I will admit I haven't tried them yet, but I find them pretty curious. Mostly because

1. there's no vanilla flavor. or plain-glazed. nada.

2. they're 75 cents per mini doughnut. And I'm talkin Mini.

3. They only make vanilla(?)-flavored cake. No chocolate.

Is the overpriced mini item solely a San Francisco phenomenon? When I was in New York last I didn't see bite-sized anything, but out here it's mini doughnuts and mini cupcakes and tiny squares of poco dolce chocolate...

In other news, I was in Boulette's Larder today with a coffee in my hand and did not get kicked out! Lori Regis was right there schmoozing with someone, and the salesgirl listened cheerfully to my blathering about preserved lemons and agar...and they couldn't have been nicer. I guess some things do change.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

overheard on the blogs

Many writer types reacting to the news that HarperCollins is shutting its Collins divisions (mostly nonfiction/reference). Over here someone asked if publishing companies would approach congress for a bailout.

After hours editing widgets I'm not so amused by that notion as when I first found it, much as I'm entirely over death-of-the-novel* conversations, it is the end of an era.

I wonder how many kids today grow up relating to the tactile scent of a book's pages or the smell of grimy newspaper ink on their hands. If they parse the weight of textbook paper versus cheap paperback.

*(see also death-of-fiction-in-general-and-the-short-story-in-particular)

If I believed that resistance was futile, I would stop.

Friday, February 06, 2009

snow falling on zebras

I made these really fun doughnuts today.

Vanilla doughnut/ coconut glaze/ dark cocoa drizzle/ coconut flakes.

They did indeed look like snowy zebras.

The Internet is out again and I'm protesting by working on a story. Someone should unplug me more often.

I'm going to sausalito for the first time ever on Monday. I really should get out more

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

introducing SAVE Creative Writing

How many people does it take to reach Anthony Bourdain?
One, if you're me and you know how to find him.

How many people does it take to reach America's writers? To be exact, the specific subset of writers that attended Vassar College?
I don't know. That's where you folk come in.
(FYI, Bourdain attended but did not graduate)

Currently, due to budget cuts, the creative writing program at Vassar is facing severe budget cuts. If passed they threaten to undermine the integrity of the creative writing program.

To follow the fight against these cuts and find out how you can help visit SAVE Creative Writing