Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Trapped in New Jersey I am, back in Philadelphia after month+ of wandering around in No Internet Land, aka the Jersey Shore. It's been tough. And the food kind of sucks down there...hence the not posting for a while. Whatever, don't judge me! It's not like YOU post on Scrumptulescence every day! In any case, I promise to be a better food critic/correspondent, even in the absence of gastronomic delights to report.

In any case, I thought I'd do something a little different a write a round-up of rather sub-par but edible places to eat if you every find yourself in sunny South Jersey. And I don't mean Cherry Hill. Oh no, my friends, I'm talking the cape. You know, down the Garden State Parkway, exit 13 down (that's Swainton/Avalon in case you're wondering).


Green Cuisine:
Okay, so I eat here at least once a day, since it's really the only reasonably healthy joint to eat on the island. I mean, it makes sense, having mostly pizza joints and Italian restaurants, because people are vacationing and love crappy food on the road. Right? Not me, damn it! So yeah. Green Cuisine is a bonafied health food place - they even promise to prepare otherwise alien (to South Jersey and its inhabitants) dishes like tofu, fresh-squeezed (pressed? pulverized?) carrot and celery juice, and salad that's not made of iceberg lettuce. Fresh fruits and vegetables proliferate, and your best bet is to share one of the enormous salads and maybe grab a side of the hummous and pita to supplement. A few stand-outs: the Cobb Salad is a deliciously linear presentation of sliced avocado, turkey breast, bacon, and hard-boiled egg atop mixed greens. Yum! Also, try the Eggless Egg Salad Sandwich, if only for the novelty. Like I said, the hummous is good, especially in the pita sandwich form, although I'm a sucker for anything chick pea-, sprout-, cucumber-, and tomato-based. For a true fruit overload, try the Jamaican Joy - a half pineapple filled to overflowing with blueberries, strawberries, apples, kiwi, and whatever else they can cram in there. Yum!

Peace a Pizza:
Sucks big time.

Stone Harbor Pizza:
Sucks slightly less.

Back Bay Crab Cakes and Seafood:
This is THE place to get your choice of broiled or fried crab cakes. My stalwart culinary companion Todd made the trip down, and we enjoyed the hell out of these heaping, golden-brown mounds of jumbo lump crab. I'm talking no fillers. NO FILLERS, do you even understand the gravity of that?! It's effin' amazing. Seriously. You can even buy frozen crab cakes to make at your leisure...but who really likes to cook these days?


Via Mare:
I figured I'd add one Italian spot, since it's my parents' favorite and it's halfway decent. The eggplant parm is good, but I wouldn't recommend skipping a trip to Italy to eat here.


That Sushi Place Right Off the Garden State Parkway:
Okay, so I can't remember exactly what the place is called, but it was delicious. I went with our neighbor, the good Dr. Dave Connelly, and we ate our fill of fresh-caught whitefish, thin-sliced and wrapped with lemon, and finished the meal with flying fish roe and quail's egg atop a mound of rice. Far from the most jaw-dropping sushi I've ever eaten, but considerably better than that one time I ate it in Minnesota and almost died shortly thereafter.

So, there you have it, a rather halfhearted roundup of some pretty lackluster eateries. I promise I'll be back with more, better soon. More better!

Monday, June 18, 2007


So, Saturday night was the festival of San Ranieri here in Pisa. The main celebration was a huge street fair, and lighting up the windows all the buildings along the river Arno with candles (the Luminara). It's quite picturesque, you can read more about it here.

A bunch of us from the conference went into town to take part, including Enrico, who's Italian and did his undergrad in Pisa, and my friend Anish, with whom I plan to open a restaurant/microbrewery in Bangalore, India, after we both get tenure somewhere. Anyway, Enrico had been telling us about Cecina, a typical Pisan snack food, which is more-or-less a thin, savory, brick-oven pancake made with chickpea flour. It's made on a huge pan, and then cut into slices, and served on bread made from pizza dough as a sandwich. So we went to the most famous purveyor of this snack, waited in line for about an hour (LOTS of people come to the festival), and maybe it was the wait, or maybe it was the fact that we got a fresh, fresh slice, but damn, was it good. One of our group got it with jalapeno peppers on it, and this looked even better. It tastes actually quite similar to the Indian snack pakora, which is fried lentil flour dumplings, usually spiced up a bit.

You can find a recipe here.

Anish and I have some ideas for improvement before we serve it at our restaurant- basically, to make it more like a pakora- so before you put it in the oven, we think some finely chopped white onions, fresh green chilis, and cilantro should be mixed in with the dough. I'm getting hungry just writing about it.

Monday, June 11, 2007

does anyone know a single hedge fund manager?

this weekend i had the opportunity to go to two of the country's best restaurants in 48 hours because of a friend in town from nyc on a culinary mission. friday night - alinea, which you might know from such facts as its the best restaurant in america according to gourmet magazine and the chef grant achatz is a 31 year old mastermind of micro-gastronomy. saturday night - moto, which you might have heard of because they have a class 4 military laser in the kitchen and cook everything in liquid nitrogen. i will lightly touch on moto but the short and long of it is this... alinea is earth shattering. moto... eh. it doesnt even hold a candle to the type of experience you get at alinea on many levels.. food, service, atmosphere. sitting at dinner friday i was thinking about something my dear friend ms. ultimate said to me one night... she said 'im going to start dating the type of guys my parents sent me to private school to meet.' now i didnt go to private school but upon tasting the good life friday night i have learned the wisdom of her ways. so if anyone has a corporate lawyer tucked away for safe keeping... hook a sister up.

but on to alinea. the exterior is a non-descript townhouse on halsted near steppenwolf. looks like somebody's rich aunt's house. but when you walk into the entry hall and the stainless sliding doors pop open you know its something different. for the record, i was wearing a pink satin roberto cavalli skirt, black alexandra neel stilletos, and brought the black fendi. adam was wearing a pale blue jacket and black pants and shirt with a bright blue and purple tie, all ted baker.

you are greeted by a host and on your left is one small dining area, lushly carpeted and comfortable, in front of you is a beautiful structural glass stair to the second floor dining space, and down the hall on your right is a view to the kitchen, all white and stainless and sparkling, where an endless flurry of chefs dance around one another. we sat up stairs in a small dining room on the front of the building. we had an army of people to serve us and literally never for a second were things out of order. it was precision like ive never imagined in dining. we did the grand tour, 25 courses, and chose to get the wine pairings that the chef recommended. with the first champagne based cocktail we got a small croquette made of steelhead roe. i slid it into my mouth from the small white ceramic pedestal it was served on and instantly lost my train of thought. it was perfection. and every course thereafter was better than the last with very few exceptions.

its impossible to outline them all but some highlights... there was a chilled shot glass filled with celery gellee and a small frozen marble sized shell made of horseradish and filled with an apple water that you took all at once. it was sweet, clean and just a tiny hint spicy at the end when the shell dissolved in your mouth. theres a picture here at top left. there was a dish with 7 small bites of rhubarb in different forms, including a dime sized rhubarb ice cream sandwich. there was a duck dish that was served in a bowl placed on top of a pillow filled with a cool lavender scented air that surrounded you as you leaned over to take a taste. there was a small envelope, maybe the size of my thumbnail, made of a sheet of clear pineapple based gel, filled with bacon powder. the chef even defied the local regulations and sent us a smalll cinnamon pastry, hollowed out and filled with foie gras, then sealed with apple pate de fruit.

i wont go on and on because there are no words. grant aschatz is a motherf&$*ing genius. literally.

there is a lot of theater in the food at alinea but it all is part of how the food tastes and how the flavors combine in your mouth. unfortunately moto was a lot of theater in a disney sense. it was a lot of gymnastics for no reason it seemed. most of the courses were uninspired, or inspired by the fact that the kitchen wanted to play with liquid nitrogen and not inspired by taste. the service was marginal and the atmosphere was blah. the music was terrible and it was literally the worst restaurant bathroom ive ever been in. id rather use the restroom at popeyes. a few courses were good but overall for 330$ id rather eat at piece every day for six months. or go to kuma's and eat 33 mastadons.

so in summation, if you can save some money go to alinea. you must go at some point before you die or you will not, in fact, go to heaven. this is a scientific fact and not debatable in any way. the price tag is steep but its worth every penny to witness achatz in action. its like spending money to see micheal jordan play basketball or mike tyson bite someone. the full menu changes every 12 weeks amazingly. hit me up next year and well go again. big time.

miss casual signing off.

Great Food Saturday

Hey everyone. Sorry about the lack of posting. I don't know why Jayadev is the only one posting. But I do know that there hasn't been any blog-worthy eating on my part for some time. Saturday was a really relaxing day, and pretty interesting food-wise, so I thought I'd try to get back on the horse, as it were.

Saturday morning. 8 am. I had yet to visit the Green City Market this year. It runs Wednesdays and Saturdays in Lincoln Park. Lots of stuff on their mission and their goals. Very admirable. I just know that small farmers from Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana come in for it, and bring usually superb examples of what is in season. I'd go twice a week if I could. There were a LOT of strawberries to be had. Really nice ones, read all of the way through, with great flavor. I picked up some of those, some asparagus, spring garlic, some 3 year old raw cheddar cheese, and some decent early season, started indoors beefsteak tomatoes. I also grabbed some hydroponic yellow tomatoes, which were pretty bad, so enough about them. But the nice red beefsteaks were actually pretty good. Had them for dinner Sunday, which I will get to soon. Anyway, the market is a great little event, and it's held twice a week. I like going around, looking at everything, trying the samples, talking to some of the farmers, and then buying. best produce you'll find anywhere in the city, other than at other farmer's markets, and the farms all supposedly have to practice sustainable growing. Sustainable and local are the new organic, and you can definitely tell the difference in the quality of the food. Plus I like that my money goes from me straight into the hands of the farmer. In some cases, literally. Everyone should check it out.

I've been hearing about the Copper River Salmon that is in season right now. Even though the definition of what constitutes the Copper River has become somewhat lax of late, this time of year means that there is a LOT of really beautiful fish to be had. I definitely want to cook more with fish, and my one experience with grilled wild salmon was great, so I thought this year I'd find some and try grilling it. There is a thread on the lth forum about it. Dirk's, a great fish market in the city, is getting supposedly gorgeous wild salmon right now, selling it around $19 a pound. Whole Foods has some nice stuff. $15 a pound. And then I find that Costco is getting it, too, for $9 a pound, and the reports say that it is REALLY good. So, after the market, I ran into costco and got two sides of it. Those will probably go on the grill Tuesday night.

On the way home from Costco, knowing that AY and the new guy were probably only recently away, I decided to grab Hot Doug's takeout for all of us. What can be said about this place? In some ways, it's the best restaurant in the city. Cool guy making great food from interesting ingredients in a casual setting. And it's very reasonably priced. Saturday the specials menu was particularly inspiring. We shared the duck-fat french fries, and I had half of a jerk-pork sausage with spicy mango mayonnaise, queso fresco, and crispy fried onions, as well as half of the Saucisse de Toulouse with Scallion-Horseradish Beurre de Chevre and Saint Rocco Brie Cheese. Yeah, I'm serious, and yeah, they were fantastic, even after the quick car ride home (about 7 minutes). Doug can do no wrong in my book. And I think he's making a good living out of it.

After a lazy afternoon (it was a weekend off of ultimate and a lot of folks were out of town, so I took it easy), it was time for dinner. I didn't want to cook until more roommates were around. Quick consultation with AY and we were off to Kuma's Corner. Another great place, easy to get to from our apartment, and probably serving the best burger in town. Time-Out may not have picked it as such, but, seriously, they know burgers there. We sat on the patio, I had a couple of great beers off of their interesting beer menu, and then I gad the Kaijo burger. Blue cheese, crispy fried onions, bacon. Had chips on the side. AY had the Mayhem. Pancetta, fresh jalepenos, pepper jack cheese, giardiniera mayo. We had some good conversations, the weather was perfect, the beer was cold, the waitress was friendly. The food was perfect.

Afterwards we went to Scooter's custard. Another establishment that is too new to be called a Chicago institution, they make fresh frozen custard. It's really good. Not much else to say about it.

So, for a day when I didn't have anything planned, I wore flip-flops, shorts, and a t-shirt all day, and I never strayed far from home, I had a GREAT Chicago food day. I hope to repeat it throughout the summer. Although to be honest, I probably don't need to double up Hot Doug's and Kuma's on the same day, and the Scooter's was a bit excessive. But, trust me, it made for a very happy Saturday.

Saturday, June 9, 2007


After 3 days, I have had a great meal in Tuscany. My friend Anish Ghosh and I went to the Fodors-recommended Osteria Dei Cavalieri, which was just round the corner from my office in the Piazza del Cavalieri.

Well, the food was great. First meal in Italy where I can really say it was great, from start to finish. Before dinner we shared a bottle of chianti on the other side of the Piazza, accompanied by some very nice mini-prosciutto sandwiches. The reds here are really something.

So of course, we also had red wine with dinner. Just the house red, it was even better than the pre-dinner bottle.

I suppose, before I use my typically purple prose to praise dinner, I should say why the other meals haven't been great: first, several of them have been in an university cafeteria. There's no way for a meal in an university cafeteria to be great. None. Even it does have prosciutto and melon (which was good, but the rest of the meal was crap).

The other restaurant meals have been fairly mediocre. Not bad, and the ingredients have been very good (the tomatoes actually taste of tomato!), so things like caprese salad have been very nice, but they've all been sort of "eh".

Not tonight, though. Not tonight... (an expression favored by NCAA athletes, when they win a home game against favored opposition: "they may be the better team, but not tonight! Not tonight!" - imagine it being said as a football or basketball player waves a meaty finger at the camera).

OK, end of bizarre parenthetical. I'm kind of drunk, if you can't tell. Red wine. Lots of red wine.

Anyway, back to the meal. I started with swordfish carpaccio, which was really terrific. I love encountering different textures, and the thinly sliced raw swordfish with olive oil, a roasted red pepper strip, and some greens really made me realize about what food critics mean when they say something is "well composed". BTW, I also thought about this after a bacon-rochefort salad at the Union League Cafe in New Haven.

My main course was grilled leg of rabbit accompanied by grilled vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, and peppers). Now, the rabbit was very tasty, gamey of course, with some interesting herbs on top. But for me, the real standout were the grilled veggies. It's very easy to screw these up. But the texture and the flavor (just some olive oil and sea salt) were nigh-on perfect.

Osteria dei Cavalieri also has a 11 Euro lunch tasting menu, so hopefully this is just the first of many good meals there.

More later. I remain, your faithful Tuscan correspondent.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

New Haven restaurants

So, recently, Nicole and I have been exploring the many fine restaurants (and no, I'm not kidding) in New Haven, CT. There's a fine guide called the Menu, which describes itself as "relentlessly opinionated". I like it quite a bit because it tends to underrate restaurants, which is much better for a guide to do than overrating them. Anyway, here's my personal supplements, divided vaguely into categories.


There are a LOT of Indian restaurants in New Haven. 3 on my street, within a 5 minute walk of my house. 6 within a 20 minute walk. The clear champion amongst the ones I tried was Thali, a more upscale place, with good drinks, very good food (you could actually taste individual ingredients, unlike most other Indian places). I recommend the Lamb Biryani and the plain Dal.

The other places (Royal India, Tandoor, Zaroka, Sitar (why would you name your restaurant after an instrument?), and India Palace) are all more-or-less interchangeable: same menus, similar decors, etc. I think Royal India is the best of this group, the Lamb Vindaloo is quite good. Tandoor is interesting because it is housed in the building that used to be the Elm City Diner, which was an old train-car style diner.


Now, New Haven is famous for pizza. Even one of Chicago's favorite pizza joints, Piece, proudly serves "New Haven style" pizza. This is extremely thin crust, not overwhelmed with cheese or sauce, and fresh toppings. In fact Piece is very directly inspired by one of my favorite institutions, Bar in New Haven. both brew their own (very tasty) beer, serve a classic New American salad (field greens, pears, candied pecans, blue cheese, vinaigrette), and excellent pies. I think that Billy Jacobs, one of the owners at Piece, was inspired by Bar.

I didn't actually try either of the two grand old New Haven institutions, Sally's and Pepe's, but was reliably informed that the time it took and the rudeness you must endure aren't really worth it. But maybe I'll have to try them at some point in the future.

For me, the other New Haven pizza standout is Modern Apizza. Nothing fancy, just a really yummy brick oven pizza with excellent toppings. Stick to the pizza though, the salads and everything else are pretty mediocre. When Nicole and I went there, her salad was just iceberg lettuce, but our pizza with green peppers, cherry peppers, and onions was delicious. Nicole says that it is one of the best pizzas she's had in New Haven. And she's lived around there for longer than I have, so you should probably trust her.

Latin American:

While New Haven has no decent Mexican places (El Amigo Felix and Viva's are both awful), it has some very nice Latin American options. Soul de Cuba has very tasty Cuban food, and excellent (and cheap) Mojitos.

Pacifico, though, is one of the best restaurants I've eaten at in a while. The drinks and appetizers are superb, and one can quite easily make a meal out of them and a dessert. The Ecuadoran Shrimp Ceviche and Mango baby back ribs are particular standouts from the starter menu. We also had a very good octopus ceviche the last time we were there.

Pub food:

Rudy's. Read it about it here. And yes, on further consideration, the Sunset Wheat is not very good.


Yankee Doodle: eggs, burgers, bacon, etc. all covered in grease. A counter. The waitress calls you hon. Nothing else in the Have compares, though the Educated Burgher isn't bad, and Anna Liffey's makes a good omelette and is a nice Irish pub.


Oh, the Union League Cafe. How I love thee. Nicole and I went there before seeing a play at the Yale Rep, and it was great fun and better food. A long, impressive-looking (I don't really know much about it) wine-list (and for the record, our Sauvignon Blanc was very nice), and just amazingly well executed food in a beautiful setting.

The sea scallops appetizer (with lemongrass, among other flavor notes) and the chocolate souffle were the standouts.


Bentara is actually the best Malaysian restaurant I've been to. The curry mussels appetizer is just superb.

OK, I'm starving now. The cafeteria here in Pisa opens at 7:30pm, I don't know how I'm going to survive the next 10 minutes. Maybe I'll gnaw my arm off.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Culinary adventures in New England

Well, time to resurrect this little corner of the Internets. Your global correspondent here, reporting from Pisa, Tuscany, Italy. But since I just got here, not much to talk about yet (except that Caprese salad with good ingredients is amazingly delicious, and shrinkwrapped sandwiches everywhere taste awful).

So instead, I thought I'd talk about (the highlights of) my culinary adventures as I traveled through New England in the month of May. This actually is NOT going to include my Michelinesque tour through New Haven's fancier eating establishments (and let me tell you, it's an underrated food city), but instead going to focus on interesting food in occasionally strange places:

1. BBQ in Vermont: I wouldn't have believed this for a second, had my friend Steve Wang not alerted me to it. He had come up to New Haven and we were about to embark on a journey to the wilds of Middlebury, VT to play at Get Ho Get Leid. Doing some research about our route, he found information about Curtis's BBQ stand, off exit 4 on I-91, Putney, VT. Damn, were these good ribs. And talking to Curtis, as he minded rack after rack of delicious meat, is quite the experience. The sauce is a tangy, vinegary one, which I think is Carolina, but Curtis is from Georgia. Any info on Georgia BBQ, guys?

2. Cheddar Cheese in Vermont: A little less surprising, I suppose. While playing this tournament, we had several ocassions to sample the famous Cabot Cheddar. First, after games on Saturday, we swung over to Noonies Deli, where many of us enjoyed the Vermonter sandwich: ham, cheddar, apples, and spicy honey mustard on honey oat bread. Just an amazing combo of textures and flavors. It was so good that on Sunday, when we went back, I ordered one after eating a quite substantial (and also delicious) Rueben.

Oh, and Middlebury totally deserves it's Club Midd reputation. On Sunday morning, we had a first round bye, and so strolled into the dining halls (no one at the door), and helped ourselves to omelettes stuffed with, yup, Cabot Cheddar. Best pre-tourney breakfast ever (with the possible exception of poutin, which BK really should post about).

3. Ethnic food in Boston: After Middlebury, drove over to Boston with Steve for the Clay Math conference. On Sunday night, went to dinner with Sam, Steve, and Rohan, and had a nice Vietnamese meal. On Monday for lunch, went on Punjabi Dhaba in Inman Square (I think) for really good Indian highwayside food (Dhaba = food stand on the side of the highway). On Monday for dinner, Chinatown. On Tuesday for lunch, Bartley's burgers. Damn, those are good. On Tuesday for dinner, Ethiopian. As Drew would say, Injeralicious. I like cities with a wide variety of cuisines.

4. Big portions in Newport: On Monday of Memorial Day weekend, Nicole (the gf) and I went up to Newport, RI for a day of R&R. For lunch, we went to the Red Pirate (I think) and had the most enormous portions I've ever seen served to us. I had the Rasta Pasta, and Nicole the Steak Salad, and we ended up taking most of our stuff back to New Haven.

Other meals in Newport were more reasonably sized: a fantastic dinner (oysters, lobster spring rolls, Thai duck and shrimp curry) on Monday night, a nice breakfast at our B&B, and delicious ice cream after going sailing on Tuesday morning.

New Haven guide to follow.