Monday, April 30, 2012

Which Came First, the Chicken or the Pigeon?

Squab with Lettuce -- Mr. Chow
Mr. Chow

If you're looking for the most anti-climactic dining experience ever, go to a restaurant ready to try pigeon only to be handed chicken instead.  Thanks a lot, Mr. Chow.
Pigeons of the World Rejoice
This pigeon/chicken confusion is not the only time Mr. Chow has disappointed us, as months ago, we were not-so-graciously turned away from the original 57th Street location of the restaurant.  Apparently, in Midtown East, it is considered declasse to allow your customers to sit at the bar and eat not-squab lettuce wraps, so we were forced out of the lily-laden establishment before we had a chance to identify the false advertising they are doing on behalf of pigeons.
You Really Missed Out, Chow - We Would've Consumed This Whole Cauldron Ourselves
Refusing to be defeated by Mr. Chow's antics, we head to the Tribeca outpost, resigning ourselves to eating an actual meal at a table rather than trying to fight our way onto the perpetually empty barstools.
Clearly, The Mr. Chow Graffiti Artist Knew We Were Coming
As it happens, Mr. Chow has only called to confirm our 6:00pm reservation less two hours before, and when Vodka informs Ginger of this timing debacle, Ginger surmises, "They probably just couldn't believe that they HAD a 6:00pm reservation."
Sophia Petrillo Will Be Joining Us for Dinner, Thanks
Indeed, Mr. Chow is "packed" with approximately one guest when we arrive, and Vodka makes a great display of fishing through her handbag in search of her purse hanger.  To go along with our senior citizen dining time, Vodka has taken to hanging her bag off of restaurant tables on a metal hook (given to her by, naturally, her mother), and she calls "Where's my hook?" deep into the recesses of her bag so many times that the busboys begin avoiding our side of the room.
Not to Be Outdone on the Old Maid Scale, Ginger Is Busy Filling Her Water Glass with Airborne
Eventually, when Vodka and her handbag are properly assembled, we get right down to procuring cocktails. Our pomegranate martinis arrive, and Ginger lifts her glass to toast, "Here's to the worst spring of my life."

"Hold on," Vodka waves her hand in Ginger's face, completely ignoring her self-pitying cry for attention in order to photograph the drinks in all of their splendor.  Apparently, nothing gets in the way of our loyalty to this nonsensical mission.
"My Life Is Falling Apart." "You're Blocking My Light."
Little does Ginger know, but her spring is about to get even worse: rather than having the opportunity to taste actual pigeon, as Chuck Hughes had promised on the UNDER WRAPS episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate, we find that the menu description for the "squab" with lettuce reads "chicken and vegetables."  Chicken?!
We Didn't Trek All the Way Down Here for No Stinkin' Chicken!
"We have a question," Vodka confronts our waiter, who the entire staff insists on referring to as "the captain," presumably because he is dressed like Colonel Von Trapp.  "Why is this called 'squab', when actually it's chicken?"

"Nobody wanted to eat squab," he explains.  "So we changed it."

"But we wanted squab," Ginger whines.

"Yes," the captain sympathizes.  "I prefer squab too. It has more flavor."  We nod our agreement, as if either of us has ever considered feasting upon a pigeon, let alone actually done so.  In any case, while all of this back and forth may explain why Mr. Chow no longer serves pigeon, it does NOT elucidate WHY THE DISH IS STILL CALLED "SQUAB WITH LETTUCE" ON THE MENU.
We'd Like to File a Consumer Complaint with the FTC
Moving on from our lack-of-squab annoyance, we order the wraps, along with scallion pancakes, Mr. Chow noodles, and crispy beef.  In the meantime, it had taken "the captain" so long to present himself that our cocktails are almost empty by the time he makes his way to our table, which is how Von Trapp convinces us to order fried rice to accompany the beef.
This Is What One Would Call "Manipulation of the Drunks"
"This is all a ploy," Vodka whisper-yells to Ginger when the captain departs.  "They take forever to get our order so that we're forced to consume cocktails on empty stomachs, and then we'll agree to just about anything."
Well Played, Von Trapp
As we wait for our food, we are perplexed by the large, unsightly electrical cords which are hanging out of the sockets by each table.
Mr. Chow Has Thought of Everything... Except for How to Serve Pigeon and to Hide Electrical Cords
It seems that rather than spotlighting their food, Mr. Chow prefers to give it an under-table shadowy light effect, a choice that causes not only poor design aesthetics, but also makes Vodka's picture taking a disaster of flash.
Is THIS How You Want Your Food to Look, Chow?!
"Tell the captain to turn on the lights," Vodka comments when her third picture in a row of the "squab" comes out blurry and dimly lit.  Thankfully, the taste of the fake pigeon is superior to its looks, as a large platter of crumbled up meat and vegetables sits next to some of the most perfectly circular lettuce leaves we have ever seen.  Spooning hearty portions of the mixture onto the lettuce, we top them with hoisin sauce and roll them up.
Doin' the Pigeon... Or Not, As the Case May Be
The lettuce provides a nice crunch to each bite, and the chicken mixture is fine if rather flavorless (a problem that is rectified by our dear friend, the hoisin sauce).  Overall, the wraps are enjoyable enough, if completely devoid of one key element: pigeon.
Inexplicably, Vodka Could Not Get Enough Pictures of the Lettuce Leaves
Lettuce: A Study in Portraiture
We dive into the Mr. Chow noodles, which feature a helping of long, linguine-like sticky noodles with a sauce that looks disturbingly like bolognese piled on top.

"What is this?" Ginger asks.

"I don't know, some noodle thing," Vodka not-so-helpfully responds.

"I meant the sauce," Ginger clarifies.
Straight Out of Giada's Kitchen
Tasting the mixture, we're still not certain what it consists of, other than thick helpings of ground meat (in other words, a bolognese sauce).  Alone, the noodles would be rather unremarkable, but this mystery sauce takes them to lick-the-plate-clean level.
But Let's Be Real - We Feel This Way About Most Carbs
Speaking of sauce, the scallion pancakes are in desperate need of one.
Someone Hand Over the Hoisin
Much thicker and more cake-like than the scallion pancakes we're used to, they are severely lacking in the typical outer crunch, inner chew, and, well, flavor.
Scallion Pancakes? More Like Scallion Layer Cakes
Ginger flags down one of the busboys and asks for soy sauce, a practice that we're certain Mr. Chow looks down upon.  Within seconds, a second busboy appears with small bowls of a brown substance, a flower petal floating in each.
The Blessed Salty Sauce of the Gods... Or Is It?
"Abowltowashyourfingers," he mumbles in not-quite English.  We blink silently, trying to figure out if what he just said was "soy sauce."

"A bowl to wash our fingers?" Vodka tries to interpret.

"Yes," the busboy answers before skedaddling away.  At this point, we are convinced that it is so rare at Mr. Chow for customers to ask for something as third-class as "soy sauce" that the first busboy misinterpreted Ginger's initial request as being "a bowl to wash our fingers."  Needless to say, this circumstance causes mass hysteria, especially since we are deep into our second pomegranate martinis.
And Worst of All, We're Still Stuck with Bland Pancakes
Five minutes later, as we search in vain for someone to rectify this situation ("WHERE is the captain?!"), the first busboy reappears with a miniature bowl of -- miracle of miracles -- soy sauce.  It seems as though the appearance of the finger-washing bowls mere seconds after we had requested soy sauce had been mere coincidence, and the staff at Mr. Chow is not as daft as, well, we are.
A Compendium of Sauces
This prized soy sauce does help the bland taste of the pancakes considerably (though they pretty much end up tasting like straight soy sauce).
Now Looking Suspiciously Like Scallion Donuts
As we're finishing our three "appetizers," our sole entree, the crispy beef and fried rice, appear, and we look at it rather begrudgingly.  We have now stuffed ourselves so thoroughly on hoisin, bolognese, and soy sauce that the appearance of this orange meat and tub of white rice looks less appealing than it should.
On Second Thought, We'd Like to Send This Back to the Kitchen for Being "Too Much Food"
In the captain's defense, the fried rice (which is barely fried at all) is rather delectable in both taste and texture, and it is served in a generous-sized pot. 
Enough Rice For Everyone Dining at 6:00pm
The crispy beef, while adequate enough, tastes entirely too much like "orange beef" for Vodka's taste, and Ginger eventually escorts most of the dish home with her.
A Tip-Off to This Orange Beef Comparison Could Have Been the Fact That It's, Well, Orange
"Excuse me, I'm showering," Vodka tells the captain when he brings us our check, as she has thoroughly soaked her hands in the water from the infamous "bowl to wash our fingers."  When we steal a glance at our three-figure bill, we have the identical gut reaction: "What happened?!" 
The Captain Is Obviously Trying to Bankrupt Us
It appears as though our three appetizers, one entree, and $64 worth of drinks (whoops) has added up to a whopping $178, pre-tip.  And while we are too liquored up to appreciate the true preposterousness of this figure at the time, we think we can now agree on one thing:

$200+ is a heck of a price to pay for some fake pigeon.

Mr. Chow's Squab with Lettuce: 4 stars

Monday, April 23, 2012

Off the Map: Don't All Cafeterias Feature Chandeliers?

Cheesesteak -- Tony Luke's, Atlantic City, NJ
Tony Luke's

If past experience is any indication, we don't always do so well by trying to knock a Philadelphia Best Thing I Ever Ate dish off of our list at the restaurant's Atlantic City location (we're looking at you, Buddakan).
Well, At Least t's Better Than Camden
These results thus begs the question why Vodka would insist upon going to the Tony Luke's at the Borgata casino rather than the original South Philly franchise.
Here's a Tip: This Is Not the Borgata
The answer to this question is twofold:

1. Vodka finds herself down the shore more often than she does underneath the Walt Whitman Bridge.
2. She is hellbent on validating her theory that the best cheesesteaks actually come from South Jersey.
Cheesesteaks and, Well, People, Too
For these reasons, Vodka and her friend (who asked to be called "Diet Coke" on this blog, a moniker that was shot down immediately for not featuring alcohol), while spending the weekend by the seaside, make their way to the Borgata Cafeteria.
Guessing This Is Not the Kind of Cafeteria Which Serves Tater Tots....
Said cafeteria features a Tony Luke's counter where we can find Marc Summers's chosen REGIONAL FAVORITES dish, the beloved cheesesteak.
They Say the Neon Lights Are Bright in AC... in AC
And said cafeteria also features multiple chandeliers.  Gotta love Atlantic City decor.
This Is From Where New Jersey Gets Its "Charming" Reputation
"Diet Coke" (Vodka writes this with disdain), seemingly the only person on the planet who despises cheesesteaks, scours the culinary options before taking her place in line at Lettuce Head, leaving Vodka alone to procure the highest calorie meal known to the Borgata Cafeteria.
No Real Philadelphian Would Ever Deign to Eat at This Place When Cheesesteaks Are Available
The problem is that while Marc Summers recommends the regular cheesesteak on official Best Thing I Ever Ate documents (aka the Food Network website), he actually ate the pizza steak on the show.  This circumstance means that Vodka, for purposes of completion, is forced into ordering not one but two cheesesteaks.  To eat by herself.  Because heaven forbid she bring a friend that eats something other than rabbit food with her on this particular jaunt.
So What You're Saying Is the Usual Serving Size Is ONE Cheesesteak Per Person?!
Placing her order for a cheesesteak with Cheez Whiz and fried onions, a pizza steak (a cheesesteak with marinara sauce), a side of onion rings, and a small soda, Vodka can only hope that the highly efficient workers behind the Tony Luke's counter do not call into question why her tray has enough food to fill up a football team.
The Biggest Loser Producers Would Have a Field Day with This One
To add to the humiliation, the cashier is insistent that he address Vodka by name at least eighty-seven times during this proceeding (including forty minutes later when she returns to the counter for a doggie bag), thus shredding her anonymity as the person ordering a week's worth of food... at Tony Luke's.
Old Philly Style Sandwiches, Old Philly Style Girth
Vodka sheepishly carries her tray to a table to await the arrival of her friend's salad, which inexplicably seems to be taking a full eternity for the staff at Lettuce Head to toss together.
This Is Clearly a Very Complicated Tray of Food to Pull Off
This delay causes an especially conspicuous photo shoot, as Vodka sits alone at a large table with cheesesteaks spread in front of her, photographing them.
It's Not Easy Being the Greatest Freak Show in Atlantic City, But Vodka Is Up to the Challenge
When Lettuce Head finally manages to pull themselves together, we go about the task of eating, Vodka diving into a bevy of fried, greasy and gooey delights while her friend chomps entirely-too-happily through a whole wheat roll.
One Girl's Roll of Bread Is Another Girl's Roll of Fat
Trying the pizza steak first, Vodka is ambivalent about the addition of the marinara sauce.  Always preferring a helping of cheese rather than sauce, she finds that the marinara flavor takes over the proceedings, rendering the steak and cheese almost flavorless (a problem that is rectified by, of course, a generous helping of salt).
Cheesesteak Via Italy
Interestingly enough, when "Diet Coke" deigns to try this creation, she finds it much more enjoyable than other cheesesteaks she has had for exactly the reason Vodka is not impressed -- the marinara sauce is completely overbearing.
Much Like Its Real Housewives of New Jersey Cousins
In contrast, the regular cheesesteak allows each of its ingredients to shine -- the Cheez Whiz smothers the chopped beef and onions, all pulling together to create a runny, goopy, and all together delicious version of a Philadelphia cheesesteak.
Now THAT'S a Cheesesteak
The feature that both cheesesteaks have going for them is the roll in which they are buried.  Soft and supple, they cradle the fillings without overtaking them, and Vodka prefers the rolls alone to just about any other variety of cheesesteak she has had.  Ten points on the carbs, Tony Luke's.
Lack of Pesky Sesame Seeds = 100 Bonus Points
The onion rings are greasy and crunchy enough to be tasty, if nothing remarkable.
Ring Around the Rosie
They are clearly not meant to be the star of these proceedings; for this, we have the duo of cheesesteaks, which are worth this meal's steep $25 price tag.
Thanks for the Price Gouging, Borgata
By the end of the meal, Vodka believes she has figured out part of her friend's cheesesteak disdain: she has never been taught to consume them correctly.
Why This Process Is a Complicated Endeavor Remains a Mystery
Rather than holding the sandwich tightly with two hands -- a technique that any Philadelphia-area native knows intuitively at birth -- her friend holds the cheesesteak gingerly with a single hand, contorting her head at a disagreeable angle in order to bite in and subsequently, to force half of the contents back onto the paper wrapping.
Approximate Number of Napkins Used for This Cheesesteak Consumption
After a lesson in the art of cheesesteak eating, she no longer looks like the Arizona-grown child that she is.
Presumably She Would Find This Easier to Eat If It Came with a Side of Cactus
Though she still doesn't exactly look like she's enjoying the thing.
How Is This Possibly Not Enjoyable?!
Wrapping up half of each sandwich to bring home, Vodka finds herself parading around the Borgata with two half-eaten cheesesteaks in hand.
Nothing Like Double-Fisting Cheesesteaks Around a Casino
Classy image or not, she is certain of one point: this scenario sure beats going to South Philly.

Tony Luke's Cheesesteak: 4 stars