Wednesday, June 20, 2007

New York, and other things

I haven't posted here in quite a while. I'd like to say I was phenomenally busy, but that wouldn't be true. The truth is that I went into semi-electronic isolation. I checked my email, and that was it. No more blogs, no more message boards (except the baseball related is the season after all), no more anything, really. You know what? It was kind of refreshing to not see Britney Spears' genitalia for a few weeks. I think I'm going to keep it up. But that doesn't mean I haven't been cooking and eating.

Edan and I went to New York City for a few days, and then up to visit my folks upstate. In the city, we stayed at my sisters' place in Brooklyn. It was very cute, and quite comfortable, and a good spot to jump off to all the things we wanted to see and do and eat. The first order of business for me was to get a bagel, a real New York bagel. Science has put a man on the moon, but it hasn't figured out how to make a New York bagel in Los Angeles. I guess it's the water. At any rate, I wanted a bagel. With the nearest Ess-a-Bagel several trains away, my Brooklyn tour guide, Doug, suggested I try a place called La Bagel Delight. I ordered my usual--an everything with plain cream cheese--and I was impressed. I would rank La Bagel Delight behind Ess-a-Bagel, but a little ahead of H&H, another bagel shop by which many a New Yorker swears. La Bagel Delight features large bagels, with the perfectly fluffy insides that are so hard to get right (it's a popular misconception that bagels should be chewy), and plenty of cream cheese. All in all, it was a perfect way to start my New York vacation, especially because I remembered to order my coffee black (many times I've forgotten to specify and gotten a cup full of cream and sugar).

After a day of shopping and walking around Brooklyn, Edan, Doug, my sister, and I headed to Manhattan for dinner at Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles. Now, you know I'm a Bourdain guy. I love his writing, he's great when he's on "Top Chef," and his cookbook is really well designed. So it pains me to say the meal I had at Les Halles sucked. We went to the one on Park Avenue. Maybe the other one is better. Our reservation was for 7pm, and the place was more or less empty. It's a big place, which is OK, but as Edan said, it feels a little like a restaurant at Disneyland. It's like a French TGIFridays, playing loud American pop music to tourists in shorts and golf shirts. Of course, we were tourists, too, but I never wear shorts, and I told Doug he couldn't wear his golf shirt. I know this is what the old-time brasseries of France were like -- working men at the end of their shifts sitting next to artists, etc. -- but I think I wanted a slightly more intimate environment...and maybe some damn accordion music. Despite the lousy ambiance, I was still willing to give the food a chance. Edan and I split the pate de champagne, while Doug had French onion soup (I tried a bite, and it was good, but frankly, I think it was better when I made Bourdain's recipe at home...this would be a theme for the night). The pate was pate, good but unspectacular. I wanted steak au poivre, while Edan and Stephanie both got onglette with shallot sauce. Doug got a chicken dish that I didn't try. I thought Edan's steak was terrific -- flavorful, tender, and with a very tasty sauce--but she felt it was undercooked (the waiter may have had trouble hearing her over the Ashlee Simpson song blaring from the speakers). My steak was another story entirely. It was cooked correctly and the sauce was good enough, but it was so damn tough that I burned more calories cutting it and chewing it than I gained through eating it. Seriously. Should I have sent it back? Probably, but I'm no good with confrontations. The fries -- which the cookbook touts as possibly the best in New York -- were not sensational. Another of life's tiny tragedies. Was it the worst meal I've ever had? No. Was it disappointing? Of course. There are few things in life worse than eating at a restaurant you've been dying to try, and then wishing you'd gone someplace else, but that's what happened.

The next day, I woke determined to put eat better than the day before. After another morning in Park Slope (and a decent pain au chocolate at a little bakery), Edan and I set out for some shopping in Soho. I wanted to get a pair of jeans, so I could finally be the sort of person who owns two pairs of jeans at one time. Instead, Edan got a pair of jeans. This always happens. But I digress. After buying a new pair of Converse and wandering aimlessly for an hour or so, Edan and I stumbled onto something truly wonderful -- the Vosges chocolate shop. For those who don't know, Vosges makes all sorts of incredible chocolate bars. Infused with things like ancho chilies, sweet curry powder, and wasabi, Vosges bars are the only chocolate bars I've had that approach gourmet status. Moments after we entered the store -- a sleek, boutique style shop where chocolates sat in a display case like jewels -- an intense thunderstorm broke over the city. It couldn't have been better timing. Edan and I ordered a hot chocolate with cinnamon and chili, and sat and watched people huddle under the scaffolding in front of the Burberry store. Since the rain didn't let up for some time, we got a few truffles as well -- one with sweet curry and coconut, and one with anise seed. Wow.

After our chocolate lunch, we road the subway up to Artisanal, a mecca of sorts for cheese lovers. Edan scoped out the selection of cheeses, and we sat at the bar and enjoyed a very young raw Camembert (so young, in fact, that it may have been illegal), an excellent Benedictine bleu, and a goat cheese called Valencay. I had a glass of Rioja. It was perfect.

For dinner, we met an old college friend of mine, Roscoe, and his girlfriend Susan at a place in Brooklyn called Melt. Roscoe chose the place, and he chose well. Melt features a Tuesday tasting menu for only $20 (in LA, it would've been twice as much). To start, we all shared a few orders of duck confit spring rolls, which were every bit as good as crack. The first course was a sugar snap pea soup, which was light and foamy, and absolutely perfect for a hot summer night. The second course, I thought, was even better than the first. A seared scallop next to a little frisee salad. The only disappointment was the final course, a pork cutlet served in a sauce I thought was a touch too salty. Otherwise, a terrific meal, and one that featured great conversation about everything from sustainable farming to Scientology. Roscoe made sure they kept the wine flowing, which didn't hurt, and we all had a great time.

Tomorrow, I will write a little bit about the second half of our trip, and some of the terrific things we ate in Upstate. Right now, I have to start dinner (salmon in a citrus sauce, with baby carrots roasted in honey and orange juice).

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