Month: August, 2007

Ice, ice, baby

Sunday, August 12th, 2007 | All Things, Eats

Sunday brunch in New York City is almost never a simple affair. At most places around town, getting a simple plate of eggs and toast between 11AM and 1PM is nearly impossible unless you’re willing to invest in some significant wait time.

I do love brunch, though, and every once in a while, I make the attempt. SYB had gamely spent his entire morning on line for tonight’s Shakespeare in the Park tickets – the streak is alive! — so really, the eggs seemed like the least I could do in exchange for my seat.

After six hours of waiting on the sidewalk outside the Public, though, he didn’t seem much in the mood for another line. Unfortunately, at 1PM, all the East Village hipsters were just starting their days. Even Veselka’s line stretched down the block. Pretty quickly, we assessed that our prospects might improve if we were willing to expand our search to even less-traditional brunch spots. Although newly opened (and newly reviewed) restaurant Setagaya also proved too popular for us, we eventually found our way to its nearby (less authentic?) ramen rival, Momofuku. (Hey, at least Chef Chang has a sense of humor about it.)

Ah, I do love that place. Maybe because of its hot new competition, we were able to find seats right away. Within fifteen minutes, we were happily slurping away at steaming bowls of the signature Berkshire Pork ramen.

To cool things off a bit, I brought SYB to Otafuku on East 9th, where just a couple of weeks ago, I discovered that this place wasn’t just about the octopus balls (takoyaki).

Shaved ice is a treat popular in Southeast Asia: in Hong Kong, it’s “bao bing”; in Korea, pat bing soo.” Malaysians refer to it as “ice – or aiskacang,” or simply “ABC” (air batu campur). I like to think of it as the Asian version of a snow cone, though the consistency is a little different: a mound of thinly flaked (not crushed) ice, topped with combinations of ingredients like condensed milk, chopped fruits, sweet corn, grass jelly, or here at Otafuku: green tea syrup and sweet red beans. (Strawberry and melon flavors are available, too.)

Otafuku shaved ice

Otafuku shaved ice

In Japan, the snack is called “kakigoori”, and in summer months, the stands pop up all around the country.

Ubiquitous fro-yo chain Pinkberry even has a version made of a “bed of shaved ice, mixed fruit + pillows of mochi, gently kissed with sweetened condensed milk, all hidden beneath a top hat of plain pinkberry.”


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When in Rom(ania)…

Saturday, August 11th, 2007 | All Things, Eats, Friends

When our friend BL sent out an Evite for a “Romanian hookup,” offering his services as our guide to an authentic Romanian dinner this weekend, how could we refuse?

The venue: Romanian Garden in Sunnyside. We hopped the 7 to a familiar stop, and walked two blocks to historic Skillman Avenue.

Sunnyside Arch

Outside the restaurant, our group of 11 had to wait about 15 minutes for a table this Saturday night, during which S and I entertained CS with the “dirty stories” from our trip through the rural South. Once inside, the garden theme was made apparent by the abundance of artificial greenery: trees, floral vines and trellises, an overall effect mitigated somewhat by the rowdy atmosphere surrounding the television’s blaring broadcast of the day’s soccer highlights.

Under BL’s direction, we started off with a fantastic array of appetizers: a very good smoky eggplant spread (similar to a baba ganoush). A cold beef salad. Stewed cabbage. Chiftelute (meatballs). Lots of pickles — I especially liked the green tomatoes. A warm plate of mamaliga cu brinza si smintina (polenta): a calorie-laden dish of soft, grainy yellow maize, topped with salty grated feta and twin dollops of thick sour cream…

Romanian polenta

…and the carnaciori oltenesti – cute fried sausages reminiscent of a set of jacks, which I can best describe, by looks and taste, as Romanian hot dogs:

Romanian hot dogs

As expected, the main course options were similarly meat-heavy and ultra-rich. To cut through all the fatty food: very reasonably priced bottles of pinot noir and a round of icy Ursus pilsners — “Regele berii în România” (“The King of Beers in Romania”) which I suppose makes it the Romanian Bud.

Around the table there were platters of roast chicken, pork in various forms, mititei (or mici: plump, skinless ground beef sausages), and uh… who ordered Romanian steak?

Romanian steak

Actually, I ordered the Romanian “stew” (not “steak”) – which is what I finally got after a bit of reiteration. (Oops.)

The dish was hearty and extraordinarily filling with chunks of tender, smoky meat, plated over heaping scoops of the polenta, one topped with feta, the other with a soft egg. I ended up taking half of my plate home; like most stews, it was even better the following day.

Romanian stew

Is there always room for dessert? Apparently so: on a tip from our friendly server, BL secured the last several slices of fresh Napoleon pastry, which despite its not-exactly-Romanian origins, was divine.

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A glimpse of Greece

Friday, August 10th, 2007 | All Things, NYC History

At Athens Square in Astoria, Queens:

Athens Square

In 1839, Stephen Halsey renamed the area then known as Hallet’s Cove for fellow fur-trader John Jacob Astor, the first millionaire in the United States, in an effort to persuade him to become the village’s patron. (Astor, however, invested just $500 in the community – in the form of an endowment to the Astoria Female Seminary.)

Astoria has long been known for its Greek population — the largest in New York City, and it’s been said, the largest outside of Greece. The .9 acre Athens Square on 30th Avenue between 29th and 30th Streets opened in 1971, during the height of Greek immigration, and underwent an extensive $1 million renovation in 1993.

The mayor of Athens presented Astoria with this replica of the Piraeus Athena (c. 350 B.C.), the goddess of wisdom and protectress of Athens, as a gift on March 28, 1998.

Athens Square

The three Doric granite columns in the sunken amphitheater were erected in a composition echoing that of the Tholos temple of Athena Pronaia in Delphi, 100 miles northwest of Athens.

Athens Square

Socrates sculpture, “gesturing as if engaged in dialogue” — the origin of “explaining hands,” perhaps?:

Athens Square

The Greek-looking font on the pedestals – similar to the one on the Anthora coffee cups – is probably about as Greek as the “Wonton” font is Chinese.

Rewind: Catching up on a couple of July eats

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