Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Into the Boroughs: WHAT Is Alex Guarnaschelli Doing In All of These Places?!

Smetannik -- Bakery La Brioche Cafe, Brooklyn, NY
Bakery La Brioche Cafe

We're pretty sure that Alex Guarnaschelli has it out for us.
And If She Didn't Before, She Definitely Will Now
Granted, 90% of her Best Thing I Ever Ate choices were made before we even began writing this blog, but still -- the woman seems hellbent on sending us to the farthest ends of the earth in order to procure some culinary "delicacy" (we use the term loosely), and for what purpose?  
See? The Literal End of the Earth
Her picks are random at best (miso soup in Portland, ME, anyone?), terrible at worst (the caramel apple of Charleston, SC, which shan't be spoken of again), and just plain NOT WORTH THE EFFORT in so many cases (you know, Alex, they also serve stuffed grape leaves IN MANHATTAN).
Manhattan -- So Close, and Yet So Very, Very Far
In this vein, we are hauling ourselves all the way to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, in order to procure some smetannik (sour cream cake) from Bakery La Brioche Cafe, which Alex spoke of on the SLICED episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate (keep this SLICED theme in mind, please -- it comes back again later).  
Never Have We Ever Been to Brighton Beach -- Oh Wait
In theory, we came up with a very solid plan for this outing -- Vodka would meet Ginger in Brooklyn Heights in order to take a jaunt on Jane's Carousel (we have an odd obsession with carousels; it's pretty much our only way of pretending we live in Disney World), followed by venturing, together, lest we die, to the Q train in time for Di Fara pizza to open at noon.  
Honestly, the Things We Do In the Name of Blog Completion....
After we avoided Di Fara's monstrous lines and consumed Sunny Anderson's favorite pizza, we would hop back on the Q to Brighton Beach for Alex's silly cake.  Needless to say, this plan blew up in our faces.
Brooklyn Is, Generally Speaking, Not Our Friend
The trouble began when we reached Di Fara at 11:59am on the dot and found barely six people waiting in line outside.  Great news, right?  WRONG.  In a stroke of just-our-kind-of-luck, there is a cardboard sign plastered on the door stating that they are having "oven mechanical issues" and "might" be opening at 1:00pm.

Ain't nobody got time for this nonsense, Brooklyn.
PULL IT TOGETHER, PEOPLE!  We Have Couches to Go Home and Sit On!
Because we were born with the patience of toddlers, we immediately leave the premises and high-tail it for Brighton Beach.  And within minutes of our arrival, we nearly get mowed down by at least four cars.  Thanks for the warm welcome.
Just Try to Cross This Street Unscathed. We Dare You
By default, we don't quite fit in with the Brighton Beach community for a few reasons:

1. we're not in bathing suits,
2. we believe pedestrians have the right of way,
3. we're not speaking Russian.

Without being maimed by vehicular manslaughter, we manage to make our way to Bakery La Brioche Cafe, which looks... nothing like a bakery.  In fact, it takes us a second to even find the baked goods among the plethora of fruit, groceries, and other standard bodega items. 

Why, Alex Guarnaschelli -- WHY???
Is This a Bakery Or the Brighton Beach Branch of Fairway?
Yes, You'll Find the "Bakery" Section on the Shelf Above the Citrus
When we finally stumble upon the two shelves of pastries, we find the smetannik pre-packeged in aluminum sheets all the way to the side.
Um, What Now?
Yes, you read that correctly -- PRE-PACKAGED.  Call us finicky, but wasn't the whole point of this place being featured on the show the fact that the customer could choose how big of a SLICE of cake they wanted?  We call false advertising.
We Demand a Refund on Something We Haven't Even Purchased Yet
We buy one PACKAGE of smetannik, along with a giant meringue contraption (Ginger) and an overblown cheese danish (Vodka).  Our whopping total is -- wait for it -- $.7.74.  $7.74 for two huge pastries AND a cake.  Perhaps we should move to Brighton Beach.
Oh, Who Are We Kidding? We Prefer Throwing Money at Our Problems and Then Complaining About It
Among the growing list of faults concerning La Brioche's cake policy, they also do not have any forks with which we can use to, you know, eat said cake.  
Well, Much As We Enjoy Eating Like Cavewomen....
This results in Vodka clandestinely swiping two from a take-out joint further down the avenue, and then brandishing them in her hand like a weapon as we made our way toward the boardwalk.

"What's wrong with this park?" Ginger calls, pointing to the greenery across the street.

"We're going to look at the water.  I'm giving you the full Brighton Beach experience," Vodka replies.  
Brooklyn, You Are Indeed a Fascinating Place
Unfortunately for us, the "Brighton Beach experience" means settling on one of the only shaded benches in the entire town, while most of Brooklyn's homeless population catches a few Zs around us.  
Would Any of You Care for a Slice of Cake? Oh, Sorry -- It's NOT SLICED
We peel open the cake container and jab our forks into this creation which -- keep in mind -- Alex Guarnaschelli had ventured over an hour out of Manhattan to procure.
No Judgment, Alex, But We Prefer to Waste Our Time in the Company of Our TVs
We chew silently for a few moments, and as we have established, nothing good ever comes from us being quiet.

"It doesn't taste like... anything," Vodka finally pipes up. 

"I like the texture," Ginger tries to be positive.  "You know, relatively."  Dense layers of cake are piled on top of each other, cemented together by what is allegedly sour cream frosting, but which essentially tastes like flavorless glue.  Only because we are starving (thanks a lot, Di Fara) we manage to consume one-third of it, hoping with each stolen forkful that it would get better.

It doesn't.
Our Ability to Consume Food We Don't Even Enjoy Never Ceases to Amaze
Our own respective pastries, while they at least taste like SOMETHING (hazelnut in Ginger's case; cheese in Vodka's) are decidedly fine.  They're at least marginally better than this non-sliced cake, but worth a trip to the edge of Brooklyn, they are not.
They Like Things Large in Brighton Beach
This Doughnut Could Use Some Glaze
"What is that, Staten Island?" Ginger asks, pointing to a hunk of land in the middle of the ocean.

"I thought we were facing England," Vodka replies, and it takes us a second before we sputter into idiotic laughter, realizing how truly moronic our conversations are turning.
Of Note, We Rarely Know Where We Are
"So we're giving this 2 stars, right?" Vodka asks.

"I mean, I don't think it's inedible."

"That's why it's not 1 star.  But would you ever get this again?"

"No.  Never.  But doesn't that mean 3 stars?"

"I feel like they should get a demerit for not being sliced," Vodka explains.  And so it is settled: 2 stars for some vaguely edible cake that we had to travel over half of the eastern seaboard in order to fetch.  
A Sign We Shall Never See Again
We pack up the remainders of our bargain basement purchases and stare out at the ocean one last time, feasting our eyes on Staten Island and/or England.

And grateful, for once in our lives, that Alex Guarnaschelli hasn't sent us there.  At least not yet.

Bakery La Brioche Cafe's Smetannik: 2 stars

Monday, August 25, 2014

Perhaps the BOTTLE of Wine Was Unncessary

Oklahoma Jumbo Beef Rib -- Daisy May's BBQ
Daisy May's BBQ

As it should be abundantly clear, we don't really care to socialize with other people, particularly people we don't know.  After all, half the time, we barely care to socialize with each other.  
"Do You Want to Go to Dinner Tomorrow?" "Eh, How About Next Week?"
If one were to look up the definition of "introvert" in the dictionary, pictures of us would appear alongside the term, and they would feature us lounging on our respective couches.
So Really, All Restaurants Should Thank Us for Deigning to Grace Them with Our Presence
It is for this reason that getting us to attend any sort of happy hour event is a rather fruitless effort.  However, when we received an alert that a college alumni happy hour would be taking place in town, we perked up at the news only when we read the line concerning "free vodka."  It seems that in an attempt to get people to arrive early (always our strong suit), the organizers of said happy hour were offering free vodka drinks from 6:00-7:00pm.  So naturally, we showed up at the stroke of 6:00pm, and we ran out of there as fast as our booze-washed knees could carry us at the stroke of 7:00.

And we ran directly across the street in order to chow down on some bar-b-que.  We are nothing if not resourceful.
Bring on the Giant Rib
You see, although Michael Symon had recommended the jumbo beef rib at Daisy May's BBQ years ago, we had never mustered up the energy to go there.  Because Daisy May's BBQ is SO FAR WEST that it might as well be floating in the middle of the Hudson River.  And to make matters worse, not only does it take the concept of "west side" to a new level, but the restaurant is also on 46th Street, which is essentially in the middle of a whole lot of nothing.  How this place has stayed open is beyond us.
Well, "Staying Open" May Soon Be a Thing of the Past at This Rate
Anyway, when we stumble through the door of Daisy May's, it becomes clear that we're not the only one who thinks the place's location is terrible, as the dining room is completely empty.  We settle down in a back corner, because we are drawn to corners like hermits to a cave, and get down to ordering.  No sooner have we taken our seats than Vodka hears the following exchange go down between Ginger and the waitress:

"Would you like something to drink?"
"Do you have wine?"
"Yes, would you like a glass or a bottle?"
"A bottle."

Ginger utters this phrase so automatically -- and so quickly -- that neither of us stop to ponder the ramifications of this statement.  
Namely That By Tomorrow Morning, We May Not Be Alive
In possibly the only good decision we make of the night, Vodka immediately asks for water, and when she downs her cup in a single gulp, the waitress finally seems to understand who she's dealing with, and she sets down a full pitcher.  Which we drink, to the last bitter drop.

Unfortunately, we also drink the entire bottle of wine.
You Win Some, You Lose Some
In order to help soak up the free (read: cheap) vodka and BBQ joint (read: cheap) wine, we request the beef rib from the BAR-B-QUE episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate, along with mac and cheese, baked beans with burnt ends, and corn bread as our sides.  
Spelling Check, Daisy May -- Let's Take Another Look at "Symon," Shall We?
Literally (literally) three minutes later, our tray of food appears before us, which we dive into almost as quickly as we drink our wine.
Taking the Concept of Fast Food to Another Level
The beef rib itself is massive -- one and a half pounds of thick meat adhered to a dinosaur-like bone.  We begin tearing into it like the cavewomen we are, and with the first bite, Vodka predictably proclaims, "Salt.  It needs salt."  
Dear Restaurants, Generally, Everything Needs Salt -- Please Oblige Us Accordingly
Now, the rib is good.  It tastes particularly good to Ginger, as she has eaten nothing but vegetarian dishes for the past two weeks ("Why are you trying to become vegetarian?" "I'm not -- it's just what I made for lunch.")  
And for the OPPOSITE of Vegetarian, We Present....
We find picking the thing up and biting into it makes it somehow more appetizing than approaching it gingerly, and the slightly crunchy texture on top leaves the rest of the meat rather succulent underneath.  However, as far as flavor, it doesn't taste like all that much sauce has been applied, though naturally, the whole experience improves when Vodka douses it with multiple packages of salt.
Our Natural Palate is Sodium-Based
Unfortunately for the rib, we find the side dishes much more pleasing.  The beans with burnt ends are downright delicious, as is the macaroni and cheese.  And frankly, we would prefer a pound and a half of them over the meat.  
Beans, Beans, and Nothing But Beans
Could We Have Another Three Bowls, Please?
Good to the Last Drop
The corn bread is also quite tasty, and massive in portion (Ginger, who only allows herself to eat unsalted butter at home (the horror) finds the accompanying pad of butter especially glorious).  
Everything's Better with Butter
And our preference for the side dishes seems to make clear why we can both go weeks without eating meat, but deny us a carb for more than six hours, and we could cut someone.
We Didn't Quite Lick Our Plates When It Came to This Meaty Monstrosity
So would we make another trek all the way to 46th and 11th to sample Daisy May's delicacies again?  "If forced to go to another alumni happy hour, I guess I'd come back," Ginger correctly sums up the experience.
Vodka and Ginger Get Your Gun
But in the meantime, we'll be steering clear of both free vodka and all further attempts to get us to leave our apartments.

Daisy May's BBQ Oklahoma Jumbo Beef Rib: 3 stars

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Food by Mail: Happy Birthday, Here's a Fruit Cake

Fruit Cake -- Collin Street Bakery, Corsicana, TX
Collin Street Bakery

To say we give each other "interesting" birthday gifts would be an understatement.  Some years, they include an aptly-punned wine cozy and a year's supply of Skinnygirl vodka.  Other years, they feature a book filled with fake quotes by our hero in Gin O'Clock, the Queen of England.

This year, Ginger gave Vodka a fruit cake.
Interesting Tidbit: Vodka's Birthday Is No Where Near Christmas
Now, before you think Ginger has really begun scraping the bottom of the barrel in gift creativity, there is a method to her madness.  Said fruit cake, from the Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas, was featured by Marc Murphy on the SEASON'S EATINGS episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate.  And being that we have yet to procure a single mail-order item in  an effort to complete our eating mission, a fruit cake seemed like a good place to start.
Overeating Via Mail
In a feat of timing, the fruit cake arrived on Vodka's doorstep a mere couple of days before the two of us were to venture down the shore for a weekend of eating, drinking, and generally avoiding the sun.  For this reason, without opening the package, Vodka packed it in her belongings, along with other necessary items like Elaine Stritch's documentary (may she and her vodka stingers rest in peace).
"I'm Packed for the Shore" --Picture Text Sent to Ginger
For the record, carting a fruit cake up and down the eastern seaboard is not exactly a stellar plan.
This Thing Weighs Two Tons
In a way that seems quite impossible based on the size of the box, this fruit cake is beyond heavy -- if it were 30 pounds, we wouldn't be surprised.  By the time we reach our destination, Vodka is convinced her shoulder will never work again, and we are afraid of what we will find once we open the box.
Merry Christmas to Us
Fear strikes us yet again when we see not one, but two sets of nutrition facts plastered on the sides.  One side (the Texas side, presumably) states that this fruit cake contains 8 servings at 410 calories each.  The other side (the Rest of the Country side) says that there are 20 servings at 160 calories each.

Proof of This Madness -- 20 Servings...
...Versus 8?!
Unfortunately, this is just the first bit of confusion that strikes us about the cake, as when we finally open the package (after a bus ride filled with cups of contraband vodka and a tipsy run around Wawa which resulted in the purchase of cheese slices, ice cream, soft pretzels, hoagies, and at least 14 types of chips), we find an entire booklet of instructions about how to consume the thing.
"Guide to Collin Street Bakery Products" -- They Require a GUIDE
Call us crazy, Collin Street Bakery, but we think by this age, we know how to eat cake.
We've Had Ample Practice.  For Examples, Please See This Blog
Among the plethora of directions, Collin Street includes the fact that freezing or refrigerating the cake makes it easier to slice (up to and including what type of knife to use in both circumstances), and they also specify that the fruit cake can be toasted for breakfast and topped with a pat of butter.

In other words, "Here is how to give our cake some flavor."
Way to Have Faith In Your Own Products
Forever diligent, we refrigerate the cake, and the next day, we attempt to consume it for breakfast.

And let's just say it's a good thing we have pretzels and Doritos to eat as backup.
Somebody Help Us
The cake is dense -- denser than any cake should ever be, in our opinion, and packed with dried fruits and nuts in nearly every cranny.  
We See the Fruit -- Now Where Is the Cake?
Now granted, we are not exactly connoisseurs of fruit cake, being that we've never tried the stuff, but if Marc Murphy thinks this one is special, it must be pretty good, right?

It is not.  
Not Worth the Weight
Instead, this fruit cake is sweet.  Overwhelmingly sweet.  So sweet that we can barely discern any other flavor.  But even beyond the sweet taste, what really puts us off is the texture, which manages to be both slimy and sticky at the same time.

Talk about 410 wasted calories.
We Ate All 20 Servings -- Or Minus-Zero
We decide that we also dislike that the cake is cold (again, Collin Street's suggestion, what with the refrigeration and all), and because it is a mail-order item, it lacks an atmosphere that restaurants naturally provide (Ginger quips that perhaps we should save it and haul it out again at Christmas).
Oh, There's Nothing Like Six-Month-Old Fruit Cake for the Holidays
As we debate whether to give this monstrosity of 1 or 2 stars, Ginger suggests that we leave it in the kitchen, and if we go back for more, it will get 2 stars, and if we don't, it will get 1 star.

Well, we returned to the kitchen many a time over the course of the weekend, and we placed just about every food or drink item that was in there into our mouths.

Every food or drink item -- except the fruit cake.

1 star for you.
In Your Tin, You Arrived, and In Your Tin, You Shall Remain
The Collin Street Bakery fruit cake seems like a clear example that any food that comes with a pamphlet full of instructions is inherently fraught with peril.  

And it also proves that come Ginger's birthday, she should look to receive an equally seasonally inappropriate item in her mailbox.
Plus, Of Course, These Napkins
Collin Street Bakery's Fruit Cake: 1 star