Saturday, April 30, 2011

Put Down the Plate, Bread Boy

Spaghetti – Scarpetta

Ginger has taken up Skinnygirl baking.  Following in the footsteps of Vodka, who has been teaching herself to cook via Bethenny Frankel’s cookbooks since last summer, Ginger arrives at Scarpetta for our next Best Thing I Ever Ate dinner armed with a moist Skinnygirl muffin.

“I’ve already eaten half the batch,” she admits.
A Picture That's Not Worth a Thousand Words
Upon tasting it, Vodka, who remains somewhat skeptical of the Skinnygirl dessert recipes, is astounded.  “This is Skinnygirl?!  It tastes so good!” she says.

“Yeah, I had to substitute fat ingredients wherever Bethenny said to use skinny,” Ginger confesses.  So there we have it.

We are escorted to our table at Scarpetta (once Vodka walked back and forth in front of the place four times – the restaurant name is not exactly paramount and Vodka is not exactly a genius).  Handed the wine list by our waiter (who, for the record, never disappears.  We’re looking at you, Cipriani Dolci), we are instantly confused.  We pretty much know how to order glasses of “Pinot Grigio” or “Pinot Noir.”  If wines are not called by these terms, we need English-to-English translation of the list.  Upon telling the waiter our desired preferences (“Wine that tastes like Pinot Grigio/Pinot Noir and is cheap”), we are provided with two glasses perfectly suited to our tastes.  Point number one, Scarpetta, for not making us feel like total morons.

With our wine comes the Greatest Bread Basket to Ever Exist on Earth.

No joke.

Unlike establishments (cough Balthazar cough) who charge you $16 for subpar bread, this heavenly bread basket is provided gratis, and it is comprised of approximately 87 varieties (or 4, but who’s counting?).  One of these varieties is Stromboli.  STROMBOLI.  We don’t even know the last time we have tasted the indulgence that is a loaf of pepperoni, cheese, and bread.  We are out of our minds with glee.
Best. Bread. Basket. Ever.
For the other breads, they give us a dish with three sauces (they tell us what they are, but our mouths are watering too heavily to comprehend).  The whole bread experience is not to be missed.  To be honest, we could have left then, content with our wine and bread appetizer.
The Bread Dips After Our Massacre of Them
Soldiering on, we order a polenta with truffled mushrooms to split as our appetizer, which is also OUT OF CONTROL good.  Neither of us being big followers of either polenta or mushrooms, we are blown away.  It is creamy and the flavors are nuanced, and it takes every ounce of self-control we have not to lick the bowl clean.
Who Knew Polenta Was So Delicious?
While clearing our polenta plate, a well-meaning busboy makes a move to take away Vodka’s bread plate, which she makes a dramatic effort to protect.

“Did you see the bread boy tried to take my plate?!” she whisper-yells across the table.

From this moment on, we are obsessed with referring to the poor soul as the "Bread Boy," because, after all, based on the quality of Scarpetta bread, it is his most important function.

For our entrees, Ginger, once again breaking rank, gets some sort of short rib ravioli-like pasta.  This, too, is great.
Non-Itinerary Pasta
Vodka, always a rule follower, orders the Best Thing I Ever Ate dish: Ted Allen’s SAUCED choice: spaghetti.  Now, Ted Allen had said not to scoff at the $24 price for a plate of spaghetti – that it really is that good.

Ted Allen doesn’t lie.

The spaghetti is presented in a compact sphere that is deceiving to its serving size – there’s actually quite a lot of it once you spread it out.
Optical Illusion Pasta Portion
The pasta noodles are thick, round, and cooked to perfection, coated with a subtle hint of tomato sauce and basil (Vodka hates over-saucing, so this pasta-to-sauce proportion is ideal).
Al Dente Much?
Much too soon, our plates and wine glasses are empty, and we are headed out of Scarpetta and away from the Best Full Meal We Have Eaten (So Far).

Scarpetta’s Spaghetti (plus bread basket): 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate

Friday, April 29, 2011

Another Day, Another Discount

Vanilla Cream Meringue Cake – Cipriani (Dolci)
Cipriani Dolci

After our first two all-day eating adventures, we decide, for both logistic and obesity reasons, to start going to – gasp! – one Best Thing I Ever Ate restaurant at a time.  Of course, this new plan will usually mean that we will have to actually order full meals and not just drink ourselves to death at the bar, but we’re willing to take the plunge.

Our first dinner reservation takes us to Cipriani Dolci at Grand Central Station.  With various Ciprianis sprinkled throughout the city, we decide that this location is the least likely to be offended by our barbarian behavior.

As it turned out, they ended up offending us.

Being Restaurant Week (which inexplicably became Restaurant Month), we have a prix fixe menu off of which to order: 3 courses for $35.  And most importantly, Claire Robinson’s SWEET TOOTH dessert, the vanilla cream meringue cake, is one of the choices.

We are seated at a table overlooking the Grand Concourse of Grand Central Station, the perfect location for judging those who are commuting instead of drinking.  Trying to class up her life, Vodka considers ordering a dirty martini, a delicacy she has never tasted, but she chickens out at the last minute and goes with the Sex and the City cliché cosmopolitan.  Ginger orders the same, and we give our three course choices to our waiter.

This is the last that we see of said waiter.

The trouble has begun.
Thank You, Carrie Bradshaw
Our cosmos arrive and we are instantly drunk (they are strong and delicious), as does our appetizer of tomatoes, basil, and vinaigrette (also good).  Over our entrees (risotto and striped bass – both fine), Ginger describes her latest online dating disaster (“So he said, ‘If I teach you French, what will you teach me…?’ and I made some reference to my ability to drink margaritas”).  Before dessert, we want another drink.  Unfortunately, our waiter is nowhere in sight.  In fact, he has not been in sight since we placed our original order – no check-in and, even worse, no inquiries about a cocktail refill.  We’re displeased.

Flagging down a busboy, we each ask for a second cosmo.  They arrive at the same time as our giant pieces of fluffy, beautiful vanilla cream meringue cake.
Beauty in Cake Form
The slice is gorgeous – interlocking layers of vanilla cake and creamy meringue that seem to go on forever.  The tops and sides of the slices feature giant slabs of soft meringue, tinged brown by the mark of a blowtorch. It is light like angel food cake, with just enough crystalized sugar to provide sweetness and a welcome sugary crunch.
Frosting to Cake Ratio = How We Like It
The cake is stupendous.  We now understand why Claire Robinson almost took down Denzel Washington upon learning that he had ordered the last piece.

Licking up every last morsel of cake and cream, and feeling exceedingly more jolly from our rapidly disappearing second cosmos, we attempt to get the check.

No waiter.

We flag down another busboy and ask for him to get our waiter for our check.

No waiter.  By this time, we see him – across the restaurant and continuing to ignore us.

We ask another busboy.  Still no waiter.

By this time, 20 minutes of futile check-getting have passed.
And This Image is All But a Memory
Vodka gets up and approaches a man in a suit lingering around the maitre d’: the inevitable manager.  She explains the missing waiter situation and then heads to the bathroom (which, by the way, is located up a dark, winding stairwell and is way too small to maneuver in successfully after two cosmopolitans).  Upon returning, she is greeted by the manager (still sans waiter) with our check – our second cosmos comped and a 25% discount overall.  Acceptable.

We never see our waiter again. We apparently have this effect on waitstaff.

So in sum, it is a shame that Cipriani Dolci provided poor service, as under other circumstances, we would have been singing the praises of their cake.
This Would Have Been a 5-Star Combo
As it stands, waitstaff should learn not to mess with Texas.  And by Texas, we mean New Jersey.

Cipriani’s Vanilla Cream Meringue Cake: 4 stars

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Kee's to Our Mouths

Crème Brulee Chocolates – Kee’s Chocolates
Kee's Chocolates

Kee’s Chocolates is the Mr. Cellophane of the dessert world.

A tucked away store on Thompson Street, one could walk by it many times and not notice it.  In fact, we have done so in the past.  Who knew that our new BFF's, Claire Robinson’s, favorite CHOCOLATE resided inside?
Tissue Paper-Wrapped Wonder
Walking in, Kee’s Chocolates is simple and to the point: two small glass-filled cabinets of chocolates stand before us.  Nothing ornate.  Nothing shouting, “Look at me!”  This is not Godiva.

We order one crème brulee chocolate (which might seem an odd serving to share, but consider the day we’ve had).  Sitting in the window, we gingerly peel off the bottom of the dark chocolate hexagon and look inside: a creamy custard filling awaits us.
How Many Licks Does it Take to Get Through a Chocolate?
The chocolate is bitter, and the filling is sweet: perfect combination. The creme brulee filling tastes of just that.  (Though, for Ginger, creme brulee is hardly worth eating without the satisfaction and textural component of the crunchy, caramelized top).

We knew Claire Robinson had good taste.

Licking our chops, we part ways after another successful day.  We’ve once again survived an eating marathon and made check marks on another lengthy itinerary.

And we’ve decided that we really have to stop doing this to ourselves.

Kee’s Chocolates’s Crème Brulee Chocolates: 4 stars

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I Know I'd Go from Rice to Riches

Fluent in French Toast Rice Pudding – Rice to Riches
Rice to Riches

Full disclosure: we’re big Rice to Riches fans.
Rice to Riches Signage
Vodka discovered Rice to Riches six years ago upon moving to New York, as Kelly Ripa talked about it frequently.  Serving only various flavors of rice pudding, it is a Baskin Robbins for the chunky pudding types.

Vodka would go so far to say that she hated rice pudding before tasting that which is served at Rice to Riches.  The store changed everything about her relationship with the stuff.
Lisa Lillien had recommended Rice to Riches on Best Thing I Ever Ate for having the best dish she’s ever had SERVED COLD: the Fluent in French Toast rice pudding.  So even though we had frequented the joint many times before, we returned to taste this particular flavor.

It’s not our favorite.
We Just Don't Stop
We would absolutely rank other Rice to Riches flavors as the Best Thing We Have Ever Eaten, but we prefer Understanding Vanilla, or Coast to Coast Cheesecake, or Hazelnut Chocolate Bear Hug.  The Fluent in French Toast, while perfectly lovely, and yes, disarming in how closely it resembles French toast, is not our most beloved flavor.

Ordering a solo cup (with no toppings – the toppings are a relatively new push that Rice to Riches is making, and they’re over the top and unneeded) of Fluent in French Toast, we each take a taste from the saucer-shaped container with the space age spoon.  Then, Vodka takes one for the team and carts the rest of the serving home with her to eat later.  We just can’t shove one more piece of food into our mouths.
New Age Spoon
Well, maybe just one more….

Rice to Riches’s Fluent in French Toast Rice Pudding: 4 stars

Other Flavors of Rice to Riches Puddings: 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Have Ever Ate

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dollar Menu Corn on a Stick

Grilled Corn on a Stick – Café Habana
Cafe Habana

By this point in the day, after knoblewurst, salmon, a doughnut, dumplings, a martini, a margarita/mojito, hand-pulled noodles, and Italian pastries, we are growing weak from caloric intake.  However, we are easily persuaded by neighborhood convenience, and so we pioneer on to Soho.

If we were playing Oregon Trail, this is the point where we would have been fording the river after losing two oxen and a child to dysentery.

In Soho, we head to Café Habana for Tyler Florence’s number one ON A STICK food: grilled corn Mexican style.  Confused at first by the seemingly multiplying Café Habanas, we eventually realize that we are supposed to enter the to-go stand on Elizabeth Street and not the actual restaurant (we’re a little slow on the uptake).  The corn is a whopping $2, and as we each shell out a buck, we understand that we have reached the Dollar Menu portion of our tour.
Golden Arches-Priced Corn
Now, we know that we complain a lot about waiting.  We are not the lackadaisical types.  And at Café Habana, we are left waiting on our window stools for no less than 25 minutes for our stick of corn.  This wait seems a bit excessive relative to the quantity of corn ordered.  And the addition of our food coma and booze residuals does not help us pass the time.

Eventually, our order is ready.  We escort a gleaming stick of bright yellow corn to our place at the counter.  One side is slightly browned from the grill.  The other side is covered in goop.
Mystery Goop
In another repetitive theme, the corn is ridiculously hot. 

The goop is comprised of – well, we don’t really know.  But it’s great goop.  There is cheese and paprika – that much we recognize.  The rest remains a mystery.  We squirt the provided lime slice onto the goop, which gives a solid dose of tang to the proceedings.  And despite the fact that we can barely bite into the corn based on the temperature (and the lovely tendency of the kernels to stick in our teeth), we like it.  It’s interesting.  It’s not something we’ve tasted before.  It is more than worth the $2.

But it is not worth the 25 minute wait.

Café Habana’s Grilled Corn on a Stick: 3 stars

Monday, April 25, 2011

Pour Some Sugar on Me

Lobster Tail & Sfogliatella – Ferrara Bakery
Ferrara Bakery

Never being so happy to see Little Italy in our lives, we make it out of Chinatown to the plaza of Italian sidewalk seating.  At this point, we are ready to try anything Alex Guarnaschelli recommends based merely on the enticing language she uses to describe it, so we head to Ferrara Bakery to have Alex’s LAST SUPPER dishes: the lobster tail and sfogliatella.
If You Leave a Bakery Without a Shopping Bag, You're Doing Something Wrong
We have been to Ferrara Bakery before, and Ginger has even ordered the lobster tail.  In fact, it was so delectable that we figured anything ordered from Ferrara would be equally delicious.

This is not exactly the case.
Lobster Tail, Not from Maine
Unlike last time we were here, Ferrara Bakery’s line is now out of control.  And even worse, it is out of control with tourists, who are ordering in the slow methodical fashion that one would use when actually choosing one’s last supper.

Get it together, people.

Ferrara’s baked goods are placed in long, glass-enclosed cases which make you more and more hungry as you stand and wait.  Clever marketing, Ferrara.
We'll Take 5 of Everything
We eventually make it to the front of the line and order Alex’s two delicacies.  Asked if we want sugar on our sfogliatella, we say no.

For future reference, never, ever say no to sugar.
One of These Things is Not Like the Other
Wrongly assuming that if the dessert does not come with powdered sugar already sprinkled on it (as the lobster tail does), that sugar is unnecessary, we immediately discover the flaw in this thinking when we bite into the sfogliatella.

It needs sugar.  WHOA does it need sugar.

In the sfogliatella’s defense, it is not what we were expecting, meaning it is hardly sweet.  Fanned scales of dough cover a lemony filling with the texture of ricotta cheese (hardly knowing how to cook, we can barely identify ingredients, so forgive us).  It is beautiful to look at but less gorgeous in taste -- it doesn’t really taste like much, and the scales are disarmingly crunchy.

In essence, it needs some sugar.
MIA Sugar
In contrast, the lobster tail is to die for.  With the same scaly dough as the sfogliatella, it is somehow much softer and easier to consume.  And the filling – the filling is a creamy custard that goops out of the tail in a slow spread of goodness.  It is tastier than the finest lobster tails in Maine.

Just remember: never say no to sugar.

Ferrara Bakery’s Lobster Tail: 4 stars

Ferrara Bakery’s Sfogliatella: 2 stars

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Thwaping You Hear is the Hand-Pulled Noodles

Hand-Pulled Noodles with Beef – Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles
Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles

And then we jumped a fence.

Trying to cross the glacier field that is Bowery, and admittedly a bit tipsy from our mid-day cocktails, we face an impasse: a puddle of sludge the size of Lake Erie.  Cornered in the middle of Bowery, we have two options: trudge through the puddle, thereby ruining our slightly-inappropriate-for-a-snowpocalypse shoes and soaking ourselves below the knee, or jump a fence.  We choose the latter.

Let’s make one thing clear: we are NOT fence jumpers.  Always more likely to head towards the swings than the monkey bars in our playground days, we’re not the most daring or coordinated of souls.

Also, to be fair, we don’t so much “jump” the fence as “climb over it like buffoons.”

And said fence is approximately three feet off the ground.

We do, however, attract the attention of a young man, also faced with the choice, who applauds our courage.  Anything in the name of tasty, hand-pulled noodles.

In any case, once we scale the fence with less grace than Tonya Harding, we make our way into the heart of Chinatown.  Which is just about our idea of a nightmare.

Despite our tendency to frequent Times Square, we’re not really into crowded sidewalks.  We are impatient, we walk fast, and we don’t like anyone to get in our way.  Particularly when we’re on our way to eat.  Chinatown is not compatible with any of these preferences, especially when the already-narrow sidewalks have been halved by mountains of snow.

We finagle our way to Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles to try Guy Fieri’s favorite IN A BOWL dish, Hand-Pulled Noodles with Beef (and if we wallop a small child or two on the sidewalk in the process of getting there, so be it).
Non-Cardboard Menu
Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles is not exactly Le Bernardin (which happens to be one of the establishments on The Best Thing I Ever Ate list that we think we are going to have to take up a collection in order to enter).  Holding about 6 tables with standard-issue chairs, it has the distinct level of griminess that might not earn it a Sanitary Inspection “A.”  But we are on a mission.

We sit at a table in the corner and order our bowl of noodles.  Within minutes, a line forms at the door – Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles is the place to be in Chinatown.  Guy Fieri seems to know his stuff.

As we wait, a non-rhythmic pounding can be heard in the back room.  Vodka tells Ginger matter-of-factly, “The thwaping you hear is the hand-pulled noodles.”  And after the combination of our cocktails and fence adventure, the word “thwap” becomes entirely too amusing.
Noodles that Thwap in the Night
Our soup arrives in a bowl the size of our heads.  It looks, for lack of knowledge of Asian soup dishes, like ramen.  Steaming hot, the broth is full of slices of beef, assorted greens, and most importantly, strings and strings of noodles.  At this point, we could have used a lesson on how to eat the stuff.

In a method that is undeniably incorrect, we scoop portions of the soup into the tiny serving bowls with which we have been provided.  Something is decidedly off with this technique, as half of the noodles always remain draped between the two bowls, causing us to bite off large mouthfuls of pasta in a manner akin to Lucy Ricardo meeting William Holden in the Brown Derby.
What's Wrong in this Picture?
The noodles themselves are phenomenal: thick and chewy, they taste of comfort.  The rest of the dish is flavorful, but we only finish the noodles themselves.  We decide that we would have the dish again, but only if it were not located in Chinatown.  For the stress our fast-walking feet encounter on the mobbed sidewalks of the place is not worth the taste of this dish, thwaping noodles or not.

Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles’s Hand-Pulled Noodles with Beef: 3 stars

Saturday, April 23, 2011

And Here's to You, Ms. Claire Robinson

Grapefruit Margarita – Barrio Chino
Barrio Chino

After our foray into French Onion dumplings, we are pretty sure we want to be Claire Robinson’s friend.  And once we try Barrio Chino’s grapefruit margarita, the BEST THING SHE EVER DRANK, we are sure of it.

Upon squeezing into our places at the bar in the smaller-than-expected Barrio Chino, Ginger whispers, “Everyone here is a hipster.”  And then there's us: on a self-created Food Network tour.  Decidedly not hipster.

Barrio Chino’s “menus” are placed in front of us, although they are not so much “menus” as smeared pieces of soft cardboard with faint renderings where marker used to be.
Menu a la Roadkill Cafe
We hunker down to read them and order a grapefruit margarita… and a dark ginger mojito?

Ginger seems to have forgotten the rules of the tour: only order the items featured on The Best Thing I Ever Ate.  However, being that she never met neither a ginger nor a mojito she didn’t like, the combination of the two is too much for her to pass up.

Meanwhile, Vodka is hesitant because she hates grapefruit.  But as she is mildly OCD with such matters, she orders the drink.

It is the Best Thing We Ever Drank.

Perfectly concocted by the bartender (who was unimpressed, though mildly humored, by our Food Network-induced reason for coming), the drink is biting and sweet with just a hint of tequila flavor.  Not only does it make Vodka like grapefruit, but it also makes her like the salt along the glass rim that she usually detests.

“That’s sugar,” Ginger informs her.

Can't win them all.
So THAT'S what sugar looks like
In any case, it is all we can do to not mold our butts to our bar stools and drink grapefruit margaritas until the end of time (in her defense, Ginger’s dark ginger mojito is pretty good as well, even if it is not on the itinerary).  Claire Robinson has some mighty fine taste buds.

It takes every ounce of strength we have to pry ourselves from the bar and head back out into the tundra of Manhattan, visions of alcohol-infused grapefruits dancing through our heads.

Barrio Chino’s Grapefruit Margarita: 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate

Friday, April 22, 2011

Our New Philosophy: It's Not Even Noon Somewhere

French Onion Soup Dumplings – Stanton Social Club
Stanton Social Club

Our next Best Thing I Ever Ate tour location is near and dear to our hearts.  Why?  It is the birthplace of our new life philosophy: It’s Not Even Noon Somewhere.

We had made brunch reservations at Stanton Social Club, a place that is entirely too cool for the likes of us, for 11:45am.  Unfortunately, we finished with our PB&J “sandwich” by 11:00am, leaving us 45 minutes to wander around the Lower East Side.

We’re not really one for the wander. We like to stick to itineraries.  The Lower East Side is also not the place to wander at 11am on Saturday morning.  The streets are deserted, and everything is closed: hangovers have laid up the entire population of the neighborhood.

So to pass the time and to quench our thirst, we sit ourselves in the coffee shop across from Stanton Social Club so that we have a clear view of when they raise the gates.  Ginger regales Vodka with summaries of her new favorite show, Extreme Couponing, while Vodka tries unsuccessfully to swallow sinus medication (and ends up chewing it like a toddler).  Needless to say, we believe people like of us are not usually allowed in such highbrow institutions as the Stanton Social Club.
Rest Stop
When the pearly gates of security eventually ascend, we stumble over snowbanks (dammit Bloomberg!) to cross the street.  We have decided, however, that in order to avoid another hate-filled waitress (we’re looking at you, Five Points) and/or stomach explosion, we would prefer to sit at the bar.  We tell the hostess this, and she looks at us skeptically before sending us upstairs.  We enter the bar area.

Incidentally, for someone unaccustomed with the Lower East Side, Ginger had found herself in this very bar the previous Friday night, fighting crowds for a drink, unable to hear or see a damn thing. What a difference broad daylight, silence and bar full of empty seats makes: we have ascended into the high heavens.
We are alone.  Not one other person – bartenders, waiters, busboys, or renegades from last night’s festivities -- makes an appearance for at least 10 minutes.  We are highly entertained with ourselves.  The closest we have come to such feelings of exclusivity is Vodka’s forays into the VIP section at Live with Regis and Kelly and Ginger’s run-ins with greatness in the form of Bethenny Frankel’s fired intern, Max.

Finally, a bartender straggles in, and we are fairly certain that he thinks we are either a) still drunk from last night and/or b) certifiably insane.  We order our respective martinis and they are placed in front of us at exactly 11:55am.  So, as we toast day drinking, we say:

“It’s not even noon somewhere.”

It's Not Even Noon Somewhere
With our martinis, we order Claire Robinson’s favorite APPETIZER: French Onion Soup Dumplings.  By the time they arrive before us, the vodka has washed away any lingering knoblewurst fullness, and we dive in.  Our eagerness discounts the fact that, like Chinatown Brasserie’s eggrolls, these dumplings are scalding hot.
Heaven in a Snail Dish
Served in what appears to be an escargot dish (though neither of us are much of snail eaters), there are six dumplings, each encasing the taste of French onion soup, and covered with a thick layer of assorted cheeses.  Picking up a toothpick with a hot dumpling, oodles of melted cheese, and a crunchy crouton, we bite.

The dumplings are delectable, mind-boggling in their ability to hold the full contents of a soup in such a small, unsoggy compartment.

The cheese, however, is what makes the dish.  Gooey in the center and crispy on the outside, it adds a perfect layer to the top, and it pulls away easily with each individual dumpling.

Bless you, Claire Robinson.
Perfection on a Toothpick
So word to the nerds: avoid the madness of the people who descend on Stanton Social Club after dark, and instead arrive as soon as they open.  Head to the bar, pull up a stool, and indulge.

And no one will be there to judge you when you get drunk before noon.

Stanton Social Club’s French Onion Soup dumplings: 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate

Thursday, April 21, 2011

It Tastes Like a Sandwich

PB&J Doughnut – Doughnut Plant
Doughnut Plant

We have a tragic history with Doughnut Plant.

Long before we had embarked on this Best Thing I Ever Ate tour, Ginger had seen Doughnut Plant featured on the Food Network, and, having never met a doughnut she didn’t like, wanted to go there.  So one Saturday morning, we embarked bright and early to Doughnut Plant, which, let it be known, is really far away.  Granted, it was really far away from our respective neighborhoods at the time, but unless one lives on the Lower East Side, Doughnut Plant is out of the way of just about everyone.

Anyway, after getting lost at least fourteen times and wandering way too far down Grand Street in the wrong direction, we finally found Doughnut Plant.  And they were closed.


What kind of bakery is closed on a Saturday?!  Apparently, the kind of bakery that gives their staff an “employee vacation” over Labor Day weekend.

Needless to say, we were bitter.

So this time, heading to Doughnut Plant in search of Pat and Gina Neely’s favorite SWEET TOOTH item – the PB&J doughnut – we were skeptical.  Not so much that the doughnut wouldn’t be good, but that Doughnut Plant would be closed.

It was, after all, a Saturday.

Once again, it takes us ten times longer than it should have to get to Doughnut Plant due to the unplowed streets and sidewalks (Vodka is growing more and more grateful that she lives uptown where people believe in such newfangled inventions as shovels).  Thankfully, Doughnut Plant is open.  And the PB&J doughnut is on the daily menu posted outside.  Thank goodness for small miracles.
Wonder of Wonders
Now, Doughnut Plant is not exactly Dunkin’ Donuts.  There are not rows of donuts on display.  While there is a posted menu, you pretty much have to know what you want.  And we do.

We receive our doughnut and stand by a wire rack contraption to consume it (we are nothing if not classy).  The doughnut is square with the standard hole in the middle, and it is coated with what appears to be a peanut glaze and real peanuts.  Chunky peanut butter, if you will.
It's Hip to Be Square
Biting in, we eventually find blackberry jam in the crevices of the dough – not squirting out on our faces like a standard jelly doughnut, for which we are grateful.  That said, the thing could stand for slightly more jelly.

Chewing for a few moments, we say the same thing: “It tastes like a sandwich.”  Now, this comparison is not necessarily a bad thing – we love us a peanut butter and jelly sandwich – but this doughnut tastes exactly like one.  Even the texture of the dough is bread-like.
PB&J "Sandwich," Hold the Crust
And let’s be honest – peanut butter and jelly by any other name is still peanut butter and jelly.  “Doughnut” or not, the taste is the same as what a five-year-old could have slapped together in his kitchen with jars of Skippy and Smuckers.

Vodka Stinger pockets half the doughnut in her handbag for later, and we head off, smelling of smoked fish and fried dough, in search of a beverage (and not even a spiked one).

(Note: Ginger has been to the Doughnut Plant on two other occasions: once it was also closed -- lesson learned, call ahead -- and once she indulged in at least four different doughnuts, including the Tres Leches and the Blackout, both of which would easily have earned 5 stars).

Doughnut Plant's PB&J Doughnut: 3 stars

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Gaspe Nova, Whatever That Is

Gaspe Nova – Russ and Daughters
Russ and Daughters

Russ and Daughters is roughly one block from Katz’s Deli, yet it takes us approximately 10 minutes to skate there.  Dammit Bloomberg!
Windows of the World
Having been featured in many a New York magazine and Time Out New York article, we have both been curious about this infamous Russ and Daughters for months.  Walking in, we are greeted by deli-like counters of delicacies on either side, with shelves of gourmet goodies stacked on the back shelves.  It is bright, white, and looks like a scene out of Main Street, U.S.A.  It is downright charming.

It is foodie heaven.
Vodka & Ginger = Imported Nuts
Vodka, armed with the itinerary, does not have a single solitary clue what gaspe nova is.  A hanger steak or jellybean could have been placed in front of her and called “gaspe nova,” and she would have believed it.  The pronunciation of this mystery food also remains unclear, so she shoves Ginger, armed with our deli number, up to the counter to order (which she does with more skill than you would expect from someone who doesn’t know how one orders gaspe nova).
After some consultation with the fish slicer (apparently, gaspe nova is a salmon), Ginger orders a quarter of a pound of sliced gaspe nova, as it is the best thing that Michael Psilakis has ever had SLICED on The Best Thing I Ever Ate (clearly, Michael Psilakis, of knoblewurst fame, hangs out in a two-block radius of Manhattan).

In a running theme of our tour, we then wait.  And wait.  We wait an obscene amount of time for what seems like a small request for salmon.  This is not a Filet-O-Fish, after all.

However, when our quarter pounder of gaspe nova finally arrives, it is presented in the most perfectly sliced fashion known to man.
Perfection Among the Snowbanks
We sit on the bench outside of Russ and Daughters, thankfully cleared of snow, and gingerly open the package.  The gaspe nova is divided into astoundingly thin, delicate slices.  It is pretty as a picture.
Where's the Bagel?
Now, a full half hour into the day’s tour, Vodka is feeling ill from a vacuum-like consumption of knoblewurst, so slices of smoked fish aren’t exactly sounding appealing.  Taking a small bite, the gaspe nova is good and smoky, albeit a bit odd as a standalone dish.  We wish for a bagel and cream cheese to lay it on (and also for a beverage, as we are now dying from thirst).  We finish one slice, and Ginger repackages the fish in a manner much less skillful than it had been presented to us.  She sticks it in her handbag (poor choice) with plans to return to it later from the confines of her own kitchen, hopefully this time with some sort of bread product in tow.

Russ and Daughters’s Gaspe Nova: 3 stars

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Where Harry Met Sally and We Met Knoblewurst

Knoblewurst – Katz’s Deli
Katz's Deli

It has recently been established that we have a future in competitive eating.

The morning after nearly dying of massive food intake, we are each consuming food in our respective kitchens at rapid-fire pace.  One would never know that we had eaten half of downtown Manhattan the afternoon before.
Our Prey
And this is when we realize our flaw from our first day o’ eating: you need to pace yourself, and the only way to pace yourself is to eat constantly from the moment you wake up.  Lesson learned.

The following week, we embark on our second adventure in eating all of the Best Thing I Ever Ate dishes in Manhattan.  A snowstorm had hit the city a few days before, and unfortunately for us, Mayor Bloomberg has decided that downtown sidewalks don’t really have to be cleared because NYC is apparently a driving town (…).  This lack of sidewalk clearance is relevant only because it hindered our ability to get to our eating destinations as quickly as we would have preferred, and also because it nearly killed us.
Bloomberg's Idea of a Good Time
After trudging over mountainous snowbanks, forging through puddles, and sliding down an overarching rink of sidewalk ice, we make it to Katz’s Deli ready to abandon our tour and go protest outside Gracie Mansion.

Now, Katz’s Deli is what one calls a “New York Institution,” so naturally, neither of us, being New York Institution losers, had ever been there.  We were instantly confused.  In a process that still remains mildly unclear, upon entering Katz’s, you are given a ticket that you are to keep with you until you leave.  You pay at the door on your way out, or at least, this is what we manage to discern in the midst of our frazzledness.

Katz’s becomes unwittingly crowded and overwhelming quickly (as Vodka discovered at a later date when she arrived mid-day on a Sunday).  However, at 9:00am on this Saturday, crickets.  The place is nearly empty.

We walk up to the counter and confidently ask for a knoblewurst sandwich on rye.  The man behind the counter looks bemused.  Without saying anything, he slaps two pieces of red, juicy sliced sausage down on the counter in front of us.

“Try it,” he says.  Apparently, we don’t look like the knoblewurst types.

We do.  It is the Best Thing We Have Ever Eaten.

We nod and grunt incoherently at the man behind the counter, confirming that we didn’t order knoblewurst by mistake.  Wanting to make the most of our first trip to Katz’s Deli, we choose the seat “Where Harry Met Sally,” as the dangling sign above our heads indicates, for our breakfast of the best thing WITH GARLIC that Michael Psilakis has ever eaten.
We'll Have What She's Having... If It's Knoblewurst
Our sandwich is a three-inch tall stack of sliced sausage in between two mustard-slathered pieces of rye bread, with a side of complimentary pickles.  We dutifully split the sandwich and dig in.

We are in love.
Our Soul Mate
The knoblewurst is cooked so that portions of the “skin” are downright crunchy, while the middle remains moist and juicy.  As someone who has been forcefed kielbasi by her Polish mother and grandmother for most of her life, Vodka is one with garlic sausages, and this is one of the best.
Not Kielbasi, but It Will Do
Jamming the entire half sandwich in our mouths, we fear that we have just done ourselves in and failed the rest of our day before it even began.  Grabbing those wayward tickets, we head towards the door to pay for the greatest knoblewurst sandwich ever, before going back outside onto the ice rink that Mayor Bloomberg considers Manhattan.

Katz’s Deli Knoblewurst: 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate

Monday, April 18, 2011

Resuscitation Equipment Is Available Behind the Counter

Butter Lane Bakery – Banana Cupcakes
Butter Lane Bakery

At this point, we look downright elderly: hunched over, shuffling down the street, groaning unintelligibly.  We are so full we are ready to die.

But we have nothing if not stamina, and like any great soldier, we continue on our journey in search of dessert, all the way murmuring a faint “We have not yet begun to fight!” under our breath (apologies to Captain John Paul Jones).
Good to Know
We head to the East Village’s Butter Lane Cupcakes, which possesses what Ted Allen claims to be the best of a CLASSIC dish: cupcakes.

Now, we are both cupcake aficionados.  We may not know much about food, but we know our way around a cupcake.  It is one of the few delicacies about which we are discerning.

Ask anyone living in Manhattan, and they will assert that their favorite cupcake place is the best for reasons A, B, and C.  We happen to believe in the New York Classics: for Ginger, this place is Magnolia Bakery, and for Vodka, it is Crumbs Bake Shop.  Magnolia and Crumbs are both loved and loathed by the New York populace for various reasons, up to and including accusations of "being touristy,” “having dry cake,” “becoming commercialized,” “creating too sweet frosting,” etc.  Some people like standard, taste-like-they-were-made-in-Mom’s-kitchen cupcakes.  Apparently, Ted Allen is one of these people.

Following Ted’s advice, we order a banana cake with vanilla frosting (which is made from real vanilla beans).  A perk of Butter Lane is that you can mix and match your preference of cake and frosting to suit your taste.   A downfall of Butter Lane is that the cupcakes are actually "real" cupcakes – they are small.  They are also sweet (both in taste and in sentiment) and comforting. 
Honey, I Shrunk the Cupcake
The Butter Lane cupcake is wonderfully delicious; the cake is moist and the frosting is plentiful.  The problem we had with it is the exact reason Ted Allen featured it on The Best Thing I Ever Ate: it’s little like a homemade cupcake.  For us (mostly for Vodka), when we want a cupcake, we want an event: a 500+ calorie monstrosity that will take us more than 90 seconds to eat.  The Butter Lane cupcake is simple and lovely.  But it is not an event.

As stated fourteen times, by this point in the evening, we are ready to die.  We thought about asking the Butter Lane workers to utilize the shop’s resuscitation equipment on us.  So once again, perhaps we did not find the cupcake as scrumptious as we might have if we were not already about to burst.

Or maybe we just prefer to eat cupcakes the size of our heads.

Butter Lane Bakery’s Banana Cupcakes: 4 stars