Meet and Eat: NY

Conversations with chefs and food personalities in New York City.

Meet & Eat: Dave Cook, Eating in Translation

20100401-eit.jpgThis wandering eater turned his tasting notes into a blog in 2005, and the rest, as they say, is history. Dave Cook has spent the past five years wandering in and around New York, and sometimes beyond, and has chronicled his finds on Eating in Translation. Dave doesn't limit his culinary adventures to high end or low end, nor to a specific cuisine, but instead takes it all in, providing a true cross-section of NYC's food culture. Even though he's already written over 3,200 posts, he's got a "must eat" list that he can hardly keep up with; a quick glance at his site will likely add at least a handful of spots to yours.

Name: Dave Cook
Location: Morningside Heights
Occupation: Blogger, Eating in Translation
Website: eatingintranslation.com

How did you decide to start your blog, Eating In Translation? On a whim. Or maybe you could call it a New Year's resolution. Apart from "Is your name really Cook?", one question I'm asked all the time is, "What have you eaten lately that's good?" On New Year's Day 2005 I took ten minutes and signed up for a free account, mainly so I could keep track of all the interesting food I was finding all over the city, so I'd have a good answer for all my friends who were looking for someplace new to eat. Once I'd created a big notebook for my own reference, it made sense to open up Eating In Translation so everyone else could look, too.

Photography is a big part of your blog (and you have a wonderful photostream on Flickr). Do you have any good photography tips for food bloggers? I didn't even have a digital camera when I launched my blog, and until three years ago all I owned was a point-and-shoot, so I may not be the best person to ask. I take lots of photos, then delete (or keep private) many of them. Indirect lunchtime sunlight is a good thing; so are very patient dining companions. If you're going to be your own hand model for a picture of some delicate pastry, wipe the barbecue sauce off your hands first.

How do you decide where to go? When I'm planning my day I think more in terms of neighborhoods, especially the ones that are less covered by the major food-news websites. I'll look to those sites to identify the restaurants, snack shops, markets, bakeries, and what-have-you that everyone's writing about, and often I'll take a look at those myself, but usually only as a fallback. I'd rather explore the side streets and cul-de-sacs and find something new rather than retrace everyone else's footsteps.

What are some of the most interesting places you've visited over the years that are worth a trip for Serious Eaters? Even many of the obscure places I've stumbled across have been covered widely since; Patacon Pisao and Mumbai Xpress come to mind immediately. I don't know why Tipico BK, the Paraguayan place in Williamsburg, gets so little attention (I wonder if the hammock is out in the backyard again?). Taste Good, a Malaysian restaurant in Elmhurst, makes the best curry laksa in town, and Taste the Tropics, in Flatbush, is my go-to for Caribbean ice cream flavors like soupsop, Irish moss, and Guinness Stout.

I'm big on fairs and festivals, too, like the monthly Indonesian bazaar at Masjid Al-Hikmah, in Astoria, or the yearly Armenian church fair in Union City. These can be tough to track down; I publish whatever details I uncover in a weekly post of "food-friendly events."

Are there places that were so bad that you'd never go back? There are lots of good places I never see a second time, mainly because my "to eat" list gets longer and longer despite my best efforts. To cover more ground, I graze a lot, so even if my experience is bad, almost always I can imagine that I ordered poorly and give the place the benefit of the doubt. Whether I can find time to give the place a second chance, that's another matter.

If you could put together a three course meal with dishes from any NYC spots you've visited, what would it be? Three? That's not enough! How about the housemade lardo with the bread basket at Del Posto; a pastelillo de carrucho from Mama Isabel's truck in Woodstock, in the Bronx; fatoush at Tanoreen; choucroute at db Bistro Moderne; and fresh churros from the window at El Artesano, in Union City? Ask me tomorrow, and I'll have a totally different answer.

What are your favorite local hangouts or places you might be considered a regular? The Night Café, on Amsterdam Avenue, south of Columbia, was my usual place for beer, pool, and tough trivia on Sunday evenings. For special occasions they'd cover the pool table and lay out a potluck buffet. It closed a couple of years ago, and many of the regulars have moved on to Haakon's Hall, up the avenue near 118th, which has a larger selection of draft beer, a menu (with Norwegian influences) from a former chef of Café des Artistes, and that same Sunday trivia competition. I hosted a food-and-drink edition of trivia several months ago, and I'm planning another. No pool table, though.

Best late-night eats, both out and at home? Usually I eat so much during the day, or in one big dinner after a full day on the move, that late-night eats aren't on my radar. Maybe every other month I'll buy a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos.

What is in your fridge that you'd be embarrassed to tell us about?
Well, the Doritos aren't in the fridge, and if I'll write a post about boneless chicken dinners there's little I'd be embarrassed about. My fridge is more amusing than embarrassing. Several years ago I came home with some good bread, ham, and cheese for a sandwich. Problem: On my refrigerator door I found HP sauce, shitor, suya powder, hot chow, pumpkin butter, pepper jelly, and several chutneys—but no mustard. Sometimes I get so caught up with unusual food that I have to remind myself to keep the essentials on hand.

What NYC foods do you crave the most often when you're not in town? Pizza. After six weeks in Southeast Asia, dining almost exclusively on local fare, more than anything I wanted a fat, chewy, gooey New York pie. Then I wanted a nap; my system had gotten out of the habit of digesting dairy.

Everyone has a go-to person they call for restaurant/bar recommendations. Who's yours? What's the best recommendation he/she has given you? I don't have a single go-to person. I do have a network of folks who know one or two particular areas very well, and more likely than not we'll spontaneously suggest new venues to one another. That's how I first get word of many obscure places I write about. Someone will email me to say, "I love your blog! I thought you should know about this little festival next weekend, the moms and aunties will be doing all the cooking..."

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