An occasional journal of a habitual restaurant diner; or, Not Eating at Home in New York.
As many meals as I eat in a week, that is how many times I eat out. It's not that I can't cook—it's just that there are so many places around me that do it so much better than I ever could. And I also have an impulsive palate. For instance, I might suddenly decide that I want Pad Thai at 7 p.m., as opposed to the roast chicken I thought I wanted all day... which means I would have to stock an awful lot of ingredients to keep up with my eating whims.
Even Blogfather Ed Levine marvels at how much I eat out, so when I floated the idea of this column, he thought it would make for an interesting post.
This Week In Food
And I thought so, too, at least at the time, as I had eaten at Minetta Tavern, SHO: Shaun Hergatt, Corton, and Momofuku Ssäm Bar (among many other places) that week alone. But somehow I procrastinated and I don't feel that writing a column called "What I Ate Two Weeks Ago" has quite the same resonance (not to mention relevance). So this week I vowed to get the job done and dutifully took notes and pictures. That's when things got ugly. Apparently the egalitarian in me subconsciously needed to balance the prior week of high-end dining with some decidedly low-brow fare.
When I had lunch with Ed today, I told him that I couldn't possibly write the column this week because all I had eaten was comfort and junk food. "That's okay," he said. "It doesn't have to be all about fancy dining."
"You don't understand. My mother would kill me if she found out what I ate."
That was all Ed needed to hear. "Get to work on it," he said.
So, here are some of the highlights (or lowlights, as the case may be) of what I ate this week. But please don't tell my mother. (Mum's the word.)
I started off the week in Philadelphia and decided to try out Jim's Steaks on South Street, which I had never been to before. I have to say I wasn't overly impressed, preferring both Gino's and Pat's (the only other two places I have tried, predictably as a tourist). The bread was delicious and snugly held the shredded steak that a sign promises is only sourced from steer. But it was cooked so thoroughly, and the onions not thoroughly enough, that it ended up being rather stogy and lifeless. Disappointing, but I managed to eat a few burgers on the trip that provided more satisfaction. I will write about them over at A Hamburger Today in the near future. Jim's Steaks: 400 South Street, Philadelphia PA 19147 (at S. 4th Street; map); 215-928-1911; jimssteaks.com
Craving a steak while back in New York (but not wanting to venture outside of Manhattan's East Village) I happened upon Buenos Aires, which the Village Voice called the "best steakhouse alternative." It might well be, if only for the prices. The beef here is cooked on a grill, unlike the traditional furnacelike broilers that roar away in the city's chophouses. And while it puts some char on the exterior, it is not going to fare well when compared to a top-flight steakhouse. You will find some familiar cuts on the menu, such as rib eye and skirt steak, but it also features less well-known steaks, such as bone-in short rib or the excellent flap steak that I had.
Flavorwise, flap steak is a cross between skirt and sirloin and has a deep beef flavor and a fibrous, almost stringy structure. It is important to slice it finely against the grain to get the best out of the cut. The beef was grass-fed and sourced from either Uruguay or Canada (no one at the restaurant was really sure which) and thus had a not-unpleasant floral, herbaceous quality that was complemented by the intensely garlicky chimichurri that accompanied it. Served simply with a salad or fries, the 16-ounce steak cost less than $18. Buenos Aires: 513 East 6th Street, New York NY 10009 (b/n avenues A and B; map); 212-228-2775; buenosairesnyc.com
While I am an unabashed purist when it comes to burgers, I am far more open-minded when it comes to hot dogs, at least when it comes to anything other than the classic New York beef dog—those distinctively spiced, snappy skinned tubesteaks should be dressed only in mustard and kraut. But any other dog, especially those that have some pork in them (like the wonderful ones at Crif Dogs) are fair game in my book.
So when I ventured into Crif Dog's tightly packed confines I decided to drag my dog not through the garden like they do in Chicago, but through Mexico and Far East Asia. I ordered the Chihuahua and the Tsunami.
Both start out with a bacon-wrapped hot dog that has been deep-fried. The Chihuahua comes with avocado and a schmear of sour cream. It is a wonderfully salty, creamy treat. But I adore the Tsunami even more, with its sweet, tangy dousing in teriyaki sauce and its deluge of pineapple and scallions. Either one makes for exceedingly guilty and pleasurable eating—doubly so if you get one of each.
I will forever deny the existence of tater tots at the table that night. Crif Dogs: 113 St. Marks Place, New York 10009 (b/n First and Avenue A; map); 212-614-2728
Lure Fish Bar
If you are like me (which I hope for your sake you are not), there are times when only a single dish will sate you, not physically but emotionally.
For me this usually involves juicy burgers or thick dry-aged chops, but for some reason I woke up craving a lobster roll last week. And not just any lobster roll—I wanted chef Josh Capon's lobster roll from Lure Fish Bar. Served on a house-made brioche roll it is stuffed full of tender chunks of perfectly poached lobster in a tangy mayo and served with creamy coleslaw and either salt-and-vinegar chips or french fries (both excellent, but I went with the latter on this occasion). There is nothing revolutionary here just a classic perfectly executed. Lure Fish Bar: 42 Mercer Street, New York NY 10013 (at Prince; map); 212-431-7676; lurefishbar.com
Kesté Pizza & Vino
I finally made it to Kesté Pizza & Vino, which I have been planning on going to for some time, especially because I am off to Naples next week and want to brush up on my pizza. I quite liked the Margherita pizza, although it could have used some more salt. This was not a problem on my friend's pie, which was littered with salty ribbons of salami.
The cornicione on both pizzas was nicely blistered, and even the middle of the pies, which can get soggy, retained some firmness.
My only real complaint was the cheese, which I thought was of lesser quality than that the competition. Still a very decent pie, especially for $12. Kesté Pizza & Vino: 271 Bleecker Street, New York NY 10014 (b/n Jones and Cornelia streets; map); 212-243-1500; kestepizzeria.com