Monday, September 30, 2019

Don Angie, New York

When I go to New York, I try to get together with my busy friend Daisy for at least one  meal, maybe two. Our most recent visit coincided with the first day of school, but she made time for us at the end of a crazy day of classes. We had chosen Don Angie, a modern Italian restaurant in the West Village for our late evening repast.

It was a great choice.

We started off with a selection of cocktails, Mr Minx with the Scotch and Amaretto concoction called Uncle Jimmy and me with the Pignoli Colada. I can't remember what Daisy got and I'm too lazy to ask her. In any case, I felt they were all ok. A bit heavy on the ice, which made them seem watered down.

The food was much better.

This is the bbq calamari with pepperoni fried rice and herbed labne. I proclaim that all fried rice should have pepperoni in it. And chunks of tender squid. Fab.

My favorite app was the tonatto vitello. I've always been curious to try the traditional version of veal with a tuna sauce, but it can't possibly hold a candle to Don Angie's crudo version. A membrane-thin blanket of tuna carpaccio covered a lightly spicy veal tartare with crunchy bits of celery and something that I think could have been bread crumbs? In any case, it was fan-fucking-tastic. A must-try. We also had the cheese-tastic stuffed garlic flatbread, which can be seen lurking in the background.

Each of us ordered pasta. TBH, Mr Minx and I had eaten a lot already that day and weren't super hungry, but we didn't have any problem scarfing up our meals. He had the gorgeous caramelle (a stuffed pasta shaped like a cellophane-wrapped candy) with buffalo milk ricotta, served in a brothy sauce with cubes of pickled cantaloupe. It was a smaller serving, but just right for him (for once!)

I had the smoked paprika and tomato-flavored sopressini (vaguely shaped like fortune cookies) with smoked mussels in a sauce made with Peroni beer, topped with cilantro bread crumbs and lime butter. Daisy had the garganelli giganti with a broken meatball ragu, guanciale, and pecorino. Her dish was delish, but mine was indescribably good. The pasta was silky, the mussels (not actually smoked, just heated in a smoked paprika oil) were tender, and the lime and cilantro brought everything together. If the recipe wasn't so complicated, I'd try to make it at home myself.

We skipped dessert because we were so full, but happily so. Don Angie is going into my NY dining rotation for sure.

Don Angie
103 Greenwich Ave
New York, NY 10014

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Friday, September 27, 2019

Flashback Friday - Fumetto #17 - Sugar Ho

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This post originally appeared on on October 4, 2011.

I don't know why my fumetti weren't more popular. I thought they were funny, if a little tiny.

I bet Duff would think it was...AWESOME!


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Monday, September 23, 2019

Dumpling, Dumpling, Dumpling, Pizza - NY Eats

I had long heard that Flushing, Queens, was Mecca for Chinese food lovers, a paradise of mom-and-pop dumpling shops, full-scale restaurants, and shopping center food courts hawking hand-pulled noodles made on the premises. I had been to Flushing once before, to dine at Guan Fu with my friend Daisy. Now that I was an old hand at riding the 7 train, I thought I'd take Mr Minx with me for a dumpling adventure.

I had found an article that suggested several dumpling-centric restaurants on and around Flushing's Main Street, and I dutifully noted names and addresses in a file on my phone. Thus armed, we were ready to feast.

Only, the majority of signs in Flushing are in Chinese. As are the people. I have never felt so white. But we pressed on to the first place on the list, which we could not find. We stood in front of the building, looked everywhere for an indication of a basement restaurant, then gave up and went to the second place on the list, White Bear. Thankfully, they had a dual language sign. The #6, wontons in mild chile oil with pickled mustard greens was the suggested dish; indeed every person that entered the shop ordered it.

While the oil and chiles were plentiful, they were also quite mild, which made these juicy pork dumplings a pleasure to eat. And they came 10 for $6, which made my wallet sigh with relief.

The next place on the list specialized in xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, but it had closed. With our one-out-of-three success rate, we immediately gave up wandering up and down the street and headed straight for the New World Mall. I was pretty sure we'd find multiple goodies in which to indulge there. And we did.

A working knowledge of Chinese would have really come in handy. Thankfully there was the occasional English word here and there on signs. Lanzhou Handmade Noodles was our next stop for stir-fried noods with lamb. It seemed that most folks were ordering their noodles in some sort of soup, but I figured that would be difficult to share without it getting messy. The portion we got was huge (especially for $10), and while the noodles were perfect, the dish as a whole was a little bland. I should have gone back for tiny cups of chiles and mustard greens, but we were stuck in the middle of a shared table, between couples and families with babies, and I didn't feel like struggling my way back through the pack.

Bubble tea was next on the agenda, since by that time we were thirsty and running out of our supply of bottled water. We usually go to Gong Cha, since there's one near the hotel we usually stay in, so I chose to try Kung Fu Tea instead. The flavors are much the same between the two, with options for tea with or without boba (large chewy tapioca balls), with or without milk, and in varying flavors. I got the wintermelon for Mr Minx, and a matcha black sesame for me. The sign clearly states that consumers can choose the amount of sugar and ice for their drinks, but for some reason the chick behind the counter didn't let me. I never have that issue at Gong Cha, so I will stick with them in the future.

Then I spotted Fish Dumplings. Or rather, I spotted a sign with large Chinese characters above small letters that read "dumplings," and made a bee-line. There were two women behind the counter, one taking orders and the other making the wrappers in a way that suggested that she had been doing it since practically birth. I wish I had videoed the whole process, as it was fascinating. We ordered pork and cabbage dumplings with chile oil, and for the hell of it, some filled with lamb and carrot.

While the pork dumplings were fine, they were boring compared to the lamb-filled ones. They didn't look like much from the outside, but inside they were juicy, lamb-y, and so well-seasoned, they didn't need a dunk in black vinegar or soy sauce. So fab, I wished I had ordered two of those and skipped the pork.

The pork dumplings weren't nearly as good as the ones from White Bear, to be honest.

After three orders of dumplings and one of noodles, we decided to head back to Manhattan and have a nap. We weren't scheduled to have dinner until 10pm, so at around 7 we stumbled down the street to Sauce Pizza, which I swear wasn't there when I was in NY in June.

I ordered an al pastor slice (yes, that is a common taco filling) and Mr Minx had an upside down (cheese first, then sauce). We also got a BOGO bonus of cheese slices. It was all good, with tasty toppings and thin foldable crusts. I'm glad there's good pizza in "my" NY neighborhood now.

White Bear
135-02 Roosevelt Ave
Flushing, NY 11354

New World Mall
136-20 Roosevelt Ave
Flushing, NY 11354

Sauce Pizza
315 5th Ave,
New York, NY 10016

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Friday, September 20, 2019

Flashback Friday - Everybody Goes to Gino's...

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This post originally appeared on on September 8, 2011.

Gino's service has improved quite a bit, thankfully, and we go there on a semi-regular basis.


...and I think they were all there on the same evening we decided to try out the brand-spankin' new Gino's in Towson. Not only were they all there, but they all got their food before we did.

We thought we were smart, getting to the restaurant at 4:30pm. There was no line, and there seemed to be open tables both inside and outside, so we figured we were golden. Wrong-o. After placing our order for two Gino's Giants, one with fries and one with onion rings, plus two fountain drinks, we were given two plastic cups, a plastic card with the number "1" on it, and a receipt noting the time of 4:35pm.

4:36pm: We fill our cups with fountain beverages and grab two seats at a short counter near the side entrance. The plastic "1" went into the metal ring atop the condiment caddy to alert a server to our presence when he or she brings out our food. The restaurant is pretty full and includes almost as many people waiting for carry-out as sitting at tables. Most of the seated people already have food, so I'm pretty confident that we'll have a short wait. I'm expecting 20 minutes.

4:42pm: My chair is jostled by some fatass with a balance issue. There's definitely enough room to move past me.

4:50pm: Food seems to be coming out at a decent clip, so I'm sure that we'll get our food soon.

4:55pm: It's been 20 minutes, but we're still not eating.

5:01pm: At this point, I start to wonder if offering an amuse bouche might not be a good idea, just a little something to appease those of us waiting for a while. At a fine dining establishment, we would have been done with the appetizers and waiting for our main courses by now. (Of course, were we at Alchemy, our main courses would be on the table already, too.)

5:05pm: Hey! That couple came in after we did, and they just got their food! Grr.

5:08pm: My chair is jostled again, by a server taking food to another table. Grrr.

5:10pm: That trio definitely came in after we did - and they're eating! Grrrr.

5:12pm: I notice that the line for ordering food is out the door. There should be a sign out front like the ones posted near roller coasters, "one hour wait from this point." Better yet, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here."

5:13pm: A lone woman diner, sitting at a table behind us, manages to get the attention of a staff member to complain that she had been waiting since 4:29pm and still has not received her food. She also kindly points us out as coming in right after her and being in the same boat.

5:15pm: A server offers us a coupon for a free shake on a future visit. I think, "fat chance of that."

5:16pm: Another server comes over to check our receipt. Apparently our order disappeared and they need to know what food we paid for.

5:20pm: My chair is jostled for what must be the fifth time by a vertically-challenged busser who can't seem to be able to lift the plastic bucket of soiled napkins and food baskets high enough to avoid whacking me with it. At this point, I'm almost annoyed enough to whack her back.

5:26pm: Our food arrives. At this point, both parties that arrived after us but who were served 15 minutes earlier have finished eating and left the building.

After fifty minutes of sitting in a restaurant redolent of beef and fried potatoes, we are ravenous. After a couple of bites of both fries and burger, Mr Minx turns to me and asks, "Salty?" Yes, I have to agree - both items had been aggressively seasoned. The onion rings, on the other hand, were perfect, and just the way I like them: cut into extremely thin slices and fried to a deep golden brown. They come with a little tub of sauce that tastes a bit like a Sriracha mayonnaise, but not as interesting. It was a little too spicy for the rings, but it works with the fries. The fries are merely ok, a little hard, and of course, salty. Our sandwiches - two well-done patties topped with American cheese, dill pickle slices, lettuce, and Gino's "secret sauce," on a squishy sesame seed bun - sadly arouse no feelings of nostalgia in either of us. Not that they aren't good - apart from the surfeit of salt and pepper, they are tasty, with a good ratio of toppings to burger, and just enough sauce to drip out onto our fries but not cause the bun to disintegrate or the meat to slide out - they just taste like fast-casual burgers. Not like Gino's burgers.

Granted, it's been at least 30 years since I've had a Gino's Giant. There was a Gino's down the road from Catholic High, on Edison Highway, and occasionally a few of us would hike down there after school to grab a burger before heading home. I remember liking Gino's much more than McDonald's. The burgers seemed tastier - possibly because of the Baltimore Colts connection - and they sold Kentucky Fried Chicken back then, too.

Today's Gino's is more like a Five Guys, except with a crappy system. In my experience, at Five Guys, one places an order at a counter at one end of the store, then goes to wait at a separate counter on the other side, or at a table. Folks who are ordering and those who are waiting do not mingle. At Gino's, the restaurant is set up like a more traditional fast food joint, with ordering and pickups done at a long counter at the back of the restaurant. Unlike a fast food restaurant, however, a customer does not immediately receive a pre-made burger and fries slapped onto a tray or placed in a paper bag, quick-and-dirty service allowing the customer to get out of the way of the next patron in line. Instead, like at Five Guys, Gino's patrons have to wait for their food to be cooked to order. Those who choose to eat in can take a table, but those waiting for carry-out orders sit and stand near the counter, some getting in the way of customers who attempt to avail themselves of self-serve fountain beverages.

While getting a piping hot burger that spent no time languishing under a heat lamp is a good thing, having to wait nearly an hour (in our case) is not. The problem seems to be the order numbering system. At other restaurants, one gets a receipt with a number printed on it. The receipts come out of the computer in numerical order, so it's pretty easy for someone making food to know the sequence in which the orders were placed, and thus, the order in which they should be filled. At Gino's the numbers are completely random. Our number was "1." The number of the couple in front of us was "31." The woman who came in at 4:29pm had the number "54." The trio who were in line behind us received "100." And "100" received their food before both "54" and "1."

All I have to say is, "WTF?"

6:30pm: Editing post which has become a rant about more service not equalling better service. (Ok, so I didn't edit out too much.) All I'm gonna say is...table service is a dumb idea. Patrons are perfectly capable of listening for when their number is called, getting their fat asses up from a chair, and retrieving their meal at the counter. Instead, servers who do not know exactly where their particular customer is sitting are often forced to circumnavigate the entire dining room AND check outside before finding their quarry. The high backs on some of the booths getting in the way of a server's line of sight don't help things one bit.

Initially, I was quite happy to see that Gino's was making a comeback. That quickly turned to disappointment when I realized the only thing that the new restaurant had in common with the original was the font used in the logo.

My recommendation to folks who are still eager to try Gino's, even after reading this, is to wait a couple of months so the crowds die down a bit. Maybe the table service doesn't seem like such a dumb idea when the restaurant isn't lousy with patrons. I think I'll schedule my next visit for sometime in 2012. By that time, the new Perry Hall location should be open, and they'll get the crowds, leaving Towson a quieter place.

6:45pm: Find a giant chunk of black pepper stuck in back molar.

8600 LeSalle Road
Towson, MD 21286
(410) 583-0000

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Monday, September 16, 2019

NoNoNo New York

There is far more to Japanese food than sushi, but it's hard to find a restaurant that offers more than seaweed salad and tempura in addition to the usual raw fish favorites. At least in Baltimore. But in New York, one can dine at an izakaya--a Japanese style pub--or at a restaurant that specialize in one or more specific dishes, like yakitori or ramen. NoNoNo, on the edge of Manhattan's Koreatown, is one of those places, with a menu of yakitori, or various chicken bits on skewers, plus noodle dishes and various other delights.

I wanted to dine at NoNoNo last December, but didn't have the forethought to make a reservation. This time around, I did, and so we feasted. We enjoyed some dishes more than others.

I am a fan of chawanmushi, an egg custard made with dashi broth rather than eggs, studded with savory bits and bobs, usually a shrimp or two. NoNoNo's version can be had plain, or for a small upcharge, topped with salmon roe, snow crab, and uni. Unfortunately, they were out of uni, and the snow crab was a disappointing small spoonful of shredded meat, but the overall portion of custard was large and, I thought, quite good.

The yakitori on offer includes everything from thigh and breast to skin, gizzard, even back cartilage (a favorite of mine). But we bucked the trend and went for beef skewers, instead--short rib with onion and skirt steak with shishito peppers. In both cases, the meat was flavorful and juicy, with the expected pleasant chew.

A skewered soft egg wrapped in bacon and topped with truffle salt made for another lovely mouthful or two.

We also tried the duck nanban, or deep fried duck topped with egg salad. The egg salad seemed more like mayonnaise with bits of white onion in it, and I felt it was a strange topping for the duck. I've seen too many food competition chefs get dinged for putting a wet sauce on a crisp piece of protein to think this is a good idea. But even the pieces of duck that escaped the sauce were a bit on the soggy and chewy side. Not my favorite dish.

Because our meal was going to be meat-forward, we ordered the grilled romaine, which was much like a Caesar salad. A very good Caesar salad.

We also ordered the deep fried grilled mushrooms with a very garlicky basil and scallop filling. I'd love the filling tossed with pasta. Those mushrooms were a challenge to pick up with chopsticks, by the way. Slippery devils they were.

Then there was the grilled salmon belly topped with shaved radish and salmon roe. I was hoping for a fatty and lush texture, but the meat was a tad overcooked.

Finally, we had the cold sukiyaki udon, which may have been my favorite dish of the evening. Fat slippery udon noodles swam in a tasty broth topped with various mushrooms, slices of beef, tofu, scallions, and a goodly hit of wasabi.

I'm not sure if we ordered badly, or what. The beef dishes were excellent, but some of the others had issues. There was still plenty more interesting items on the menu to explore, and I think we may have made a mistake in overlooking the chicken skewers. There are plenty of other restaurants in NY in which to dine, so we probably won't be revisiting NoNoNo in the future. Still, I'm glad I was able to satisfy my curiosity.

Check out the online menu and be intrigued yourself. Prices per dish are all pretty inexpensive, but if you order as much as we did, your meal won't be cheap.

118 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10016

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