Hand to Mouth

misadventures in eating

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I don’t often think about flavor profiles the way the pros do, but I can’t really avoid it when they slap me in the face by being surprising and utterly different.

In the billion years since I last posted here, I’ve moved from my (cozy) hovel in East Williamsburg into a nice walk-up in Queens, and an entirely new culinary world — read: not Italian — exploded with possibilities.  I live a stone’s throw away from a half-dozen excellent Greek restaurants and commendable Thai and some shockingly excellent Indian food — it’s an embarrassment of riches and it’s tragic that what finally got me posting here today was a greek filo desert — flavored with rose water.

Intellectually, I knew that before vanilla was easily obtained and in vogue rose water was a flavoring of choice, but my tongue has grown up with cheap imitation vanilla and the luxuriously good real stuff, in decadent ice creams and cakes, and although I have always hated the perfume-like head of vanilla when it is abused, the kiss of it on your tongue is irresistable and utterly familiar.

Rose water, on the other hand, tastes even more perfume-y.  Obviously, floral, almost plasticky to me, bottled and musty, but it had a coy, alien sweetness to it, and even though the first bite of the rolled baklava was arresting, I kept going back for more, trying to figure out whether or not I liked it.  Maybe it’s like a lot of things, I’m too startled by it to enjoy it, or maybe it’s just too late for me to love any baking flavor other than vanilla.


Written by lshen

February 20, 2009 at 5:34 am

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New neighborhood brings new delights, butchers, etc.

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I just moved into my new apartment yesterday morning and having spent most of this morning elbowing old ladies out of my way at the Union Square Greenmarket and cursing the bohemoth of a line at the Trader Joe’s around that corner, I finally staggered back into Williamsburg only to find that I live near BUTCHERS.  REAL ACTUAL BUTCHERS.  People who UNDERSTAND AND CUT MEAT.  My GOD.  I nearly had an orgasm on Graham Avenue, my friends.  I’m not kidding at all.

Written by lshen

September 8, 2007 at 5:00 pm

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The irony of listening to Christina Aguilera, “Beautiful” — shut up, don’t judge me — as I write this isn’t lost on me, okay?

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I’m not a coffee snob in the traditional sense.  I probably couldn’t tell the difference between a Folger’s brew and Kopi Luwak.  I have a limited amount of rational ability and I choose not to use it on coffee.  Instead, I choose my coffee based on its environmental impact: I like fairly-traded, I like shade-grown, I like organic and raised by small farm cooperatives that still allow birds to roost in their trees.  And while I don’t like Starbucks, they purport to sell coffee that follows at least the first two of my preferences, so every other day or so, when the 115 May’s Pond bus up to Mill Creek drops me off at 164th St. in Lynnwood, I truck on over to the Starbucks and order up.  And if I don’t order drip coffee, I end up with, and I am not making this up, this is my serious actual order: “one venti skim chai–light on the syrup–with two shots, please.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “God, you’re the gayest straight woman ever.”

Yes, I know, and yes, I agree, but if you go to the Starbucks Oracle, it can tell you so much more!  Yes, folks, you can have your entire personality read by your drink order.  And this is what it thinks of me:

Behold the Oracle’s wisdom:

Personality type: High Maintenance

You pride yourself on being assertive and direct; everyone else thinks you’re bossy and arrogant. You’re constantly running your mouth about topics that only you would find interesting. Your capacity for wasting other people’s time is limitless. Your friends find you intolerable, that’s why they’re plotting to kill you.

Also drinks: Water. Bottled, chilled, with four ice cubes, a twist of lemon, in a crystal glass.
Can also be found at: Trendy martini bars

Sadly, all v. v. true.  What about you guys?

Written by lshen

August 16, 2007 at 6:12 pm

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Bainbridge Island Adventure! The newest chapter in the Boxcar Children saga, obvs.

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Bainbridge Island, located in the Pudget Sound, is accessible by hour-interval ferries — and on it is a Pacific Northwestern Pleasantville. K, S, T and I made the trek out there Saturday morning — in part for professional reasons (K) and in part because it was Saturday and we all deserved a girls’ day out (S, T and I), and it was a perfect day to go: gray sullen skies melting into golden sunshine by midday.

Bainbridge is charming, it’s all bike-accessible, and the narrow streets are lined with deep forests and small shops, a post office, a high school. K meant to do an audio report on the location, and I went — like I go everywhere — to eat. We got started, after a trying journey in the car with a box of assorted Safeway donuts (in my defense, I only ate half a bearclaw and half a jelly donut, the rest were already gone by the time I climbed into the backseat), at the local coffee Shop, called the Blackbird, to load up on coffee and pastries. But mostly coffee. I mean, at least for some of us. Because clearly, some people were into the pastries:

Walking down the length of the island toward the waterfront meant walking past the downtown of specialty paper stores and the farmer’s market, a tiny strip mall that looked like battered beach property — and then destination: Doc’s Grill at the waterside.

Where we ate like kings.

Clams and mussels came perfectly steamed, tender, served in a white wine sauce with butter and lemon to drizzle and dip, with a side of foccascia bread. The shellfish were delightful, perfect, with a great bite to them, and the sauce was ambrosial: indulgent and richly briny, with a touch of garlic that made it an aromatic feast…which, guys, seriously, had us all moaning like we were chick-meat in a Ron Jeremy bonanza blowout flick.

K and I followed it up with clam chowder, which, while a little oversalted, was wonderful: creamy and thick from slow-cooking, and not overly-reliant on butter. The clams were plentiful but so were the potatoes and celery — Doc’s served the best chowder I’ve had in Seattle so far, and I had to go to a semi-sports bar famous for burgers to get it.

Sadly, the fish and beer-battered chips I ordered afterward was underwhelming: overcooked, overfried, and bland, although the french fries were delicious and the scoop of slaw that accompanied was divine. Light and not too heavy on the mayo, with the faint sweetness of the vegetables and their crisp perfectly preserved and not soggy like so many (many, many) coleslaws I’ve eaten in my long career as a Southern girl with an appetite.

And dinner, sadly, acquired in the international district at The Purple Dot Cafe was pretty craptacular — which was depressing after a pretty craptacular first half of the Seattle Sounders v. Minnesota Thunder soccer game.  (Aside: I find, and no one will convince me otherwise, that soccer is the most appallingly boring sport in the world to watch — I’m sure it’s loads of fun to play, I remember enjoying it as a kid — but as somebody sitting in the stands watching the ball zip up and down the field and no points scored, ever — ever — it’s the sports equivalent of stabbing yourself in the eye over and over again.  Give me baseball, give me basketball, give me a good hockey game — but my God, never give me soccer tickets at Qwest Field again.)

I’m always hesitant about ordering off the menu at Chinese restaurants unless I’m intensely certain about the quality of the food at that particular establishment (see: Evergreen Shanghai Restaurant, Chinatown Manhattan), so I can only really blame myself for the tasteless, misnamed, and overcooked Sechuan spicy beef noodles I ordered.

But there are things at the Purple Dot to be adored: their congee menu is extensive and generous, with enormous, deeply-filling bowls of subtly seasoned rice porridge available at less than $3 a pop — one is enough to stuff you for hours.  Couple that with the delicious if very Americanized garlic eggplant hot-pot (in no way Chinese, but still delicious), and you have a passable meal — but beware ordering: there’s a reason I only come to this place for dim sum.

Written by lshen

August 13, 2007 at 8:23 am

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Seattle food diaries: despair sets in.

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One of the reasons I had difficulty discovering the nature of the Seattle food scene, I think, is that there isn’t a cohesive one — there’s no community personality for eating, and while there are good restaurants (man, are there good restaurants), there’s no thesis to the entire restaurant scene.  And while I recognized this as an oddity but not a major problem, I faced my first true moment of food horror yesterday while dining at Capitol Hill’s upscale Southern restaurant (I was homesick, all right?), the Kingfish Cafe.

Located at 602 19th Avenue East, Kingfish is tucked away in a pretty quiet, heavily residential area shaded deeply with trees and approximately 6 billion miles away from a gas station (as our rapidly de-fueling car found yesterday night).  There was a line out the front door, but our wait for a table for three ended up being just twenty minutes spent at the bar — which was the location for the deepest trauma I have suffered yet this summer:

Guys — Kingfish Cafe doesn’t have sweet tea.

Say what you will about catering to your clientel, about the capricious nature of eaters, about regional differences in cooking, but the one uncompromising punctuation of any Southern, Southern-esque, purportedly-Southern, Southern-lite meal is that I can get sweet tea off of your menu.

Iced tea was listed, with “(unsweetened)” written next to it, and I wondered if maybe that just meant you had the option of getting it without sugar.  You know, for heathens.  NOT SO, the bartender clarified — your only option for tea was unsweetened, which began my campaign to make myself as obnoxiously, obviously from North Carolina as humanly possible.  I wailed, I bemoaned.  I flipped over the guest check at the end of the meal and wrote a heartfelt note to the restaurant management about the grievous error of their ways and ended it with a genuine “thanks” and a smiley face — but I think we all know that smiley was strained by lack.

What was more disappointing was that the rest of the food was wonderful — really really wonderful.  On a Thursday night at 8:30 they were already sold out of their ribs, but still had buttermilk fried chicken (which I ordered) and a menu that stretched toward Louisiana and then back to the eastern seaboard.

The corn chowder was creamy if short on crayfish and slightly on the thin side — and weirdly, serviced with matzo.  Yeah, I have no idea.  Neither did Roommate 1, who gave it an odd look before shrugging and dunking it into the chowder.  Fried green tomatoes, although deliciously handled, were probably the most anemic looking tomatoes I’d ever seen: tiny, plucked too early, and disappointingly small — although all the requisite flavors were present, the produce selection could have used a lot of help.  The hushpuppies served on the side were excellent — better even, strike me down, than similarly made hushpuppies served at the Chapel of Nouveau Southern Food: Crook’s Corner in Chapel (T)Hill.

The buttermilk fried chicken was overfried — which made the thin breading a little surly, just as Southern ladies don’t sweat but glisten, a Southern lady should never be in a position to gnaw at her chicken, although the meat was perfectly cooked and falling from the bone tender, getting to it was a trial.  It was more than compensated by the enormously delicious potato salad, served still molded into a scoop shape and garnished liberally with parsley, made with red potatoes, red onions, and a smattering of celery for bit.  And that was paired with collard greens, cooked to absolute perfection: salty, sweet, and vinegar-rich with flavor and a smooth, wonderful texture that spoke of long hours in heavy pots.  The cornbread, served on the side, was good and rich, nearly cake-like in texture — something that might be attributed to the fact that Kingfish makes them with creamed corn and Pepperjack cheese in addition to fresh corn kernels and jalapenos in the batter.

Kingfish is good, if slightly higher on the price scale than Southern food should (ever) be, but we can chalk that up to location, and clearly defective in the drink department.  On a scale of A to F, Kingfish’s food gets a B; Kingfish’s drinks get an F—- (that’s three minuses), because any Southern restaurant that doesn’t serve sweet tea is a big fat faker in my book.  Good effort, bad execution — and total score for me would be a C+.

Written by lshen

August 10, 2007 at 7:44 pm

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My roommate is making beer.

Photos and updates on Beer 1 and Beer 2 (avec blackberry honey!) as they crop up — original shots of boiling barley, crumbling in hops, pouring in malt, and my many and sundry “EW this tastes like the disgusting herbal medicines my mom used to make me drink as a kid!” faces at tasting the component ingredients weren’t taken, given the extreme heat of the kitchen and lameness of me — stuffing my face full of pizza while Roommate was making booze.

Written by lshen

July 6, 2007 at 10:48 pm

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Seattle Food Diary #1: “Eating local. Literally.”

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Most places have a food personality: the South has its hot oils and crisp skins, its savory and rich; China has its fresh and fast and green, with sweet and salt blending on the tongue; and now Seattle. We’re still feeling one another out.

My first real Seattle gastronomy experiment was at Eva’s, a Greenlake restaurant with a focus on local ingredients and flavors and a killer champagne cocktail called an Eva’s Special, introduced to me by my wonderful dining companion J.

I forget the exact makeup of the drink but there was a sugar cube at the bottom of the flute: sweet with a bite and just enough of a reverb of liquor bitter — utterly delicious. At just over $8 a glass, very much the chosen drink of the evening in what looked like a wonderful wine list to begin with — plus, with tons of reasonably-priced half-bottles.

We followed that up with an organic green salad with paper-thin pear and mozzarella slices and a wonderful red wine vinaigrette — good but not good enough to pursue it at the restaurant. It was a great, light counterpoint to the following course, but at around $7, it wasn’t that much more amazing than anything I could put together in you know, a plastic tin out of the local Whole Foods.

J. elected to have an asparagus tart after the waitress informed her the mussels were demolished for the evening, and it was gorgeous with a pile of watercress on top. I resisted the urge to just dig my fork across the table and steal all of her food. But! I think honestly? I got the best dish in that restaurant that night, and not just because I got to say “Yamhill County pork loin”:

It’s a seared pork loin perched on top of a rouget of fennel and salt pork with two grilled pieces of fennel on top of a spring pea puree — utterly divine. As I just told my roommate, “I want to go back there right now and eat like, four of them.”

Oh, and to top it all off: chocolate Guinness cake served with a shot of whiskey — amazing.

Dinner at Eva’s was unquestionably excellent but it can get to be kind of a pricey proposition given that most of the drinks will run you anywhere between $7-$12 a glass, half bottles are anywhere between $22-42, and while all the entrees are under $25 and deserts under $10, add that all up with tip and our dinner ran the two of us about $100 — a great romantic date restaurant, or you know, for neighborhood friends.

Written by lshen

June 14, 2007 at 5:06 am

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