Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Into the Boroughs: It Tastes Like the Baker Sweated on These Brownies

Sweet and Salty Brownie -- Baked, Brooklyn, NY

Well, it has happened: the clouds gathered, thunder struck, and Ginger moved to Brooklyn.  Life as we know it has forever changed.
Incidentally, This Is Ginger's New Subway Train
In order to prepare for her permanent accommodations on the other side of the East River, Ginger has recruited Vodka to go to the latter's shopping nemesis: IKEA. 
What Do You Mean We Have to Take a FERRY to Get There?!
Now, Vodka has never purchased a single item from IKEA, being that a) the place infuriates her and b) she is not exactly a minimalist.  But Ginger, who inexplicably throws out her bed with every move with mumbled fears about "bedbugs," is in need of something new to sleep on.
There Are Worse Things Than Staring At the Water on a Sunday -- That Thing Is Going to IKEA
While in Red Hook, because, well, we are NEVER in Red Hook, we decide to venture to Baked for Claire Robinson's Best Thing I Ever Ate SALTY GOODNESS dish, the sweet and salty brownie.  
We Need More Maps to Make Our Way Through Brooklyn Than We Did in San Francisco
Now, smoked oysters aside, we are generally quite fond of Claire's tastes.  Therefore, despite its location, we are optimistic about this brownie.  That is until it is handed to us, pre-wrapped in cellophane, looking decidedly on just the wrong side of "fresh."
How Long Have These Been in This Jar?!
Now, perhaps because 195 Best Thing I Ever Ate dishes have caused us to start hallucinating, we are fairly certain that the brownie Claire described on the show had caramel in the middle.  
And We DO Love a Salty Caramel Anything
For this reason, we chew hungrily toward the center of our brownies, desperate to find caramel where none exists.
Well, This is a Travesty of Epic Proportions
What gives, Baked?  WHERE IS THE CARAMEL?
This Place Is a Fraud
Instead of chewy, oozing caramel, we find only a completely mediocre brownie -- one that is more "cake" in texture than "gooey," and which is sprinkled with salt on top.
A Mere Trickling of Salt
That's right -- it is SPRINKLED with salt, and JUST ON TOP.  A nd rather than thick, chunky sea salt, this is squarely more of the table salt variety.  Essentially, it tastes like someone sweated all over a pan of brownies before packaging them as cellophane squares.
So, You Know, SUPER Appetizing
Besides tasting like perspiration (always a "plus" -- ahem), Baked's brownie is so rich that neither of us is capable of finishing it, and while we start out rather apathetically pleased toward it ("This could be 4 stars, I guess"), after a few bites, we are definitively more hostile ("Something really good doesn't go downhill as you eat it").
First IKEA and Now This?! Are You Trying to KILL Vodka, Brooklyn?!
We are flummoxed as to why Claire Robinson would ever make this Best Thing I Ever Ate choice -- not just because the brownie is not very good, but because the location is so inconvenient that we can't figure out how she even procured one ("Maybe someone brought this brownie to her right after she finished downing the smoked oysters and her taste buds were ruined").
Because when the IKEA Swedish meatballs are more tasty than the actual dish you came to Red Hook to consume, you know there is a problem.  
5 Star Dish
Perhaps it is time for the Baked staff to make their way to IKEA and invest in a new salt shaker.  And while they're at it, they should ask if they carry any caramel.

Baked's Sweet & Salty Brownies: 3 stars

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Umami Burger, Where the Burgers Come Before the Cocktails

Umami Burger -- Umami Burger
Umami Burger

As if New York needed yet another cult-favorite burger joint, Umami Burger has flown in from LA to take over a lengthy strip of sidewalk on 6th Avenue.  We say "sidewalk" specifically, because the "line" (more like "mob") of people waiting to dine in the precious new premises is always lengthy enough to completely disrupt pedestrian traffic flow.

Let's just say we're glad we don't live in the Village.
If We Wanted to Stand in Line All Day, We'd Move to San Francisco
We are willing to brave the Umami Burger crowd because Giada Di Laurentiis specified that we must try their signature burger on the HOMETOWN FAVORITES episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate, and we have no intention of setting sail for LA any time soon.  
Primarily Because We Just Barely Know How to Drive
We arrive at the premises at the exact same time, and Ginger, assuming that we are going to walk inside to find a Shake Shack-like ordering line, barges through the front door.

"Hi, welcome to Umami Burger," the hostess greets us, grasping a clipboard in her hands.

"Yeah, hi," Ginger continues through the second door, stopping dead in her tracks when she finds only tables and servers rather than her expected line.  It is only at this point that it dawns on her that the hostess was not merely serving as a Walmart-type greeter -- she was trying to take our name for the wait list.

Clearly, should we ever actually make it to LA, we will not do well there.
Patience and Friendliness Are Not Really Areas in Which We Excel
Our plan for this place is that if they tell us the wait is longer than 30 minutes, we are hightailing it down the street to Empellon Taqueria to drown ourselves in margaritas and tacos.  In Murphy's Law news, when we ask the hostess how long it will be, she replies, "30 minutes."

Just under the wire, Umami.  Just under the wire.
Could Someone Bring Us a Drink While We Wait?
We languish outside for just over a half hour before being escorted into the loudest, ear-ring-inducing restaurant ever.  It is impossible to describe just how loud this place is, other than to point out that as our waitress blathered on for a solid minute about the menu, we had NO IDEA what she was saying.  NONE.  It was full-on a scene out of Charlie Brown's classroom, to the point that we almost began inappropriately laughing at the absurdity of it all.
We Assume She Just Asked Us If We're Vegans
Granted, there was one particularly disruptive table at the front of the restaurant, whose members had clearly never learned to use their indoor voices in elementary school, but they were not the only flaw in Umami Burger's acoustical design.  The place is an assault on one's hearing.
BYOE: Bring Your Own Earplugs
Thankfully for everyone involved, Umami does indeed serve liquor, an attribute we had feared they would be without.  Ginger does some domineering ordering, shouting at our waitress that we would have one sangria (when she asks if the stuff is overly sweet, said waitress responds, "No, you can still taste the wine."  As opposed to WHAT?!), and one Upstarter (something with tequila and cucumber). 
Ginger Also Shouted, "And STAT," but This Message Was Lost in the Cacophony of Sound
At the same time, while her voice is still strong enough to be heard above the din, she orders us one Umami Burger, one Truffle Burger, truffle fries, and fried pickles (clearly, we are not one for the low-cal lunch).
How to Lower Your Cholesterol, Vodka- and Ginger-Style
Fifteen minutes later, all of our food gets placed on our table in one fell-swoop, along with an assortment of Umami's four main condiments.  This is all great.  What is not great is that our cocktails are NO WHERE TO BE FOUND.  
Is There Gin in the Ketchup?! Otherwise, We're At a Loss
Now, call us crazy, but we like to have some booze inside of us before we dive into our actual meals -- really, this is better for all involved, as liquoring us up makes us decidedly less hostile.  
Unless, Umami Burger, You'd Like Us to Start COMPLAINING
When we inquire as to the location of our drinks, a server says that the bartenders (yes -- plural -- there are TWO people not making our cocktails) are probably working on them.  Without exaggeration, our drinks do not hit our table for a full ten minutes after our food does (and they are both LACKLUSTER at best), and we are more than a little annoyed.
You Can Mess With Many Things, but Never Our Booze
Indeed, before we even get down to enjoying (or not) the food, we notice that Umami Burger's NYC location reeks of not having the kinks worked out.  Our water glasses remain empty for 7/8 of our meal (and are only refilled once we manage to scream loudly enough to ask).  The kitchen is obviously working at a rate about fourteen-times faster than the bar.  There is a never-ending stream of workers wandering the restaurant, but nothing much seems to get accomplished.  And most egregiously, based on the perpetual line outside, the table turnover rate in this place is downright atrocious.  For a good portion of the time when we are inside, the dining room is quite literally HALF empty.  Tables sit, clean and waiting for new patrons to fill them, and somehow, everyone remains outside.  How?!  Is this all to build your own hype, Umami Burger?  Or are you merely incompetent?
The Dining Room Remained This Way for 10+ Minutes. THIS ISN'T LA, PEOPLE
Moving onto the area where the restaurant is slightly more proficient, the burgers, admittedly, are pretty good.  
Except the Branding Often Looks More Like an Equals Sign...
...Than a U
As promised, the Umami Burger, which comes with shiitake mushrooms, caramelized onions, roasted tomato, a paramesan crisp, and umami ketchup, manages to hit a great combination of salty and sweet notes (plus whatever this "umami" flavor is).  
Burger Brains
The bun is undoubtedly one of the best parts of these creations, as it is both soft and moldable yet hearty enough to never come apart under the weight and juice of the components.  
We Do Love a Carb
Speaking of juice, we are at a standoff over how "juicy" this burger really is -- Ginger, it seems, likes when her burgers physically squirt juice out of the meat so that it runs down her fingers, which Umami's burgers do not do.  Vodka, in contrast, hates this sensation, but she does not judge juiciness based on messiness, so she still thinks this meat is quite moist.  
Ginger Presumably Wants This Plate Splattered in Grease
We also come to an impasse concerning how the burger is cooked, as Ginger is calling it "raw" and Vodka is calling it "just right" (Umami recommends their burgers be cooked to a medium-rare temperature, or "blood red," if you're Ginger).
"This Is RAW MEAT"
Despite her issues with the meat, Ginger prefers the Truffle Burger, which comes with housemade truffle cheese and truffle glaze.  
As a Rule, We Like Most Things With the Word "Truffle" in the Title
Rich and hearty, Vodka likes it, but finds it to be a bit "much," particularly when eaten with a side of truffle fries.  These fries are like an upscale version of the disco fries one would find in a New Jersey diner, meaning that the cheese sauce is so thick that it congeals into a giant mound at the bottom of the bowl (appetizing at 2am, not so much at 2pm).  
Velveeta Cheese Sauce
Umami French Fries: Going from Hot to Cold in Five Minutes or Less
But the truffle fries are downright works of art compared to the fried pickle plate, which is a true travesty.  Unlike the slices of lightly battered pickles that we had been expecting, we find four giant wedges, fried within an inch of their lives with chicken finger-like coating.  
Oh, How We Would Prefer That These Actually Be Chicken Fingers
The combination of flavors produces something that is not only odd but rather revolting, and Ginger takes the taste of this side dish quite personally.
It Should Be Right, But It's So, So Wrong
"I am disproportionately upset about the fried pickles.  If you have this basic of a menu, everything on it should be perfect," she complains, sweeping her hand over her plate of red meat for further evidence (clearly, we have a new "defeatist plate").
"You Don't Know How to Eat Burger"
By the time we're ready to leave, Ginger has moved onto grumbling about the fact that an unadorned (read: no French fries) burger here costs $12.  Are the burgers fairly good?  Yes, of course.  Are they worth twelve bucks, a half hour wait, dehydration, and a subsequent appointment with a hearing specialist?  Absolutely not.
If We Wanted All That, We'd Take Ourselves to McDonald's and Buy FOUR Burgers
Umami Burger may think that they have invented their own flavor, but unless they get their act together, they may very well be run out of town faster than we can down one of their nonexistent cocktails.

Umami Burger's Umami Burger: 4 stars

Monday, September 16, 2013

This Gets One Star, Right? More Like Negative-Five

Tea-Smoked Oysters -- Desnuda

If given a personality test, we would all but guarantee that neither of us fall on the "perpetual optimist" side of the spectrum.  However, this characteristic is blown to pieces when it comes to one fateful ingredient: oysters.
Oh, Come On, Food Network -- Not THESE Pesky Buggers Again
Now, we KNOW we don't like oysters.  We have proven this theory time and time again, and yet, every time -- EVERY SINGLE TIME -- that we are forced to consume them for Best Thing I Ever Ate purposes, we assume it will be different.  THIS TIME, the oyster will win us over.  THIS TIME, we won't make a face like we swallowed sour milk the second the slimy little creatures hit our tongue.

And every time -- EVERY SINGLE TIME -- we are proven wrong.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is why we are pessimists.
Wine Is Just About the Only Thing We Can Count On In This World
When it comes to Desnuda's tea-smoked oysters, the dish pretty much has only one factor working in its favor: it was chosen by Claire Robinson on the SMOKY episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate, and generally, we like Claire's taste.

Tastes, we do not enjoy, however, are OYSTERS and SMOKE.  So Desnuda is still pretty much working at a deficit.
Yes, We'll Take One Order of Your Smoked Oysters. Hold the Smoke and the Oysters
To say that Desnuda is an "intimate" restaurant is an understatement -- in truth, we can barely squeeze ourselves past the other patrons at the bar in order to reach our own stools.  
Desnuda Aims to Make Their Patrons Feel Portly
The whole place consists of about fifteen seats, all along the narrowest bar ever, and gives us a prime view of such scenic imagery as the dishwasher.  
What Desnuda Calls a "Window View"
It seems that Desnuda's whole concept is to be as minimalist as possible, as not only is there barely a sign at the door proclaiming that you have, in fact, arrived at the right location, but they also refuse to cook their food.
Go Ahead. Find the Name of the Restaurant. We Dare You
Very Customer-Friendly Signage -- NOT
While we had hoped to camp out at Desnuda for a full dinner, one glance at their ceviche-heavy menu leads us to ask only one question: Where are all of the carbs?
You Call Yourself a "Wine Bar" and You Don't Serve Bread?!
With that, we each order a glass of wine, which, to Desnuda's credit, feature just about the biggest pours we have ever received this side of 14th Street.
So All, At Least, Is Not Lost
As we wait for our tea-smoked oysters, the bartender (slash waiter, dishwasher, host, and janitor) hands us a cone of truffled popcorn, which is entirely more pleasant than we had been expecting.
We Do Love a Sanitary Bar Snack
Salty and warm, we inhale it by the handful.  Which is more than we can say for the tea-smoked oysters.
Thank You For Not Covering the Popcorn With Cigarette Ash
One of the many multi-functional workers soon arrives with four small glass canisters containing one raw oyster each.
Just Fill These With Rolls and We'll Call Them "Smoked Oysters"
He then makes a silent production of filling each container with its own whiff of tea smoke, which, to our credit, does not make us gag from smoke inhalation (though Vodka does loudly mumble, "Ugh, I've never inhaled anything in my life," which no one in the establishment but Ginger seems to find amusing).
Pretty Much the Story of Our Lives
He leaves us with the four mystery dishes and no idea how to eat them, so we lift them daintily, remove the lid, and toss the oysters back into our mouths.
Everyone Knows This Isn't Going to End Well, Right?
"Well, that is just terrible," Vodka says, the purse of Ginger's lips indicating that she feels the same.  Indeed, it is hard for us to discern which we hate more -- the smoke or the oyster -- but for us, it is a deadly combination of unpleasantness.
Gag Reflexes R Us
We squeeze a lemon slice onto each of the remaining oysters and try again, hoping that the acid will somehow cut down on the horror show going on with our taste buds.  But no such luck.
Vodka and Ginger and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Oysters
"This is getting one star, right?" Vodka asks.

"More like negative 5," Ginger answers.  Clearly, we need to come up with a new rating system when it comes to oysters, as 1 star does not seem sufficient enough to prove how much we hate the things. 
Hey Desnuda -- Your Gimmick Stinks
Giving ourselves GREAT kudos for downing all four of the oysters, like the great martyrs that we are, we shake our heads in disdain, feeling that Claire Robinson has forsaken us.  
We TRUSTED You, Claire, and THIS Is the Thanks We Get
Indeed, we are flummoxed as to why Desnuda's bar stools are packed, being that there is barely anything to eat in this place.  As if to hammer home our point, Ginger raises her finger at one of the multi-functional workers and asks for more popcorn, a last-ditch attempt to rid the taste of fire and ocean from our mouths.
A Gallon of Movie Theatre Butter Would Be Appreciated Right Now
"I like how I just asked for more popcorn after we loudly criticized their food," Ginger says, sticking a gigantic handful of the stuff into her mouth.

"Whatever.  We ate it.  We're gonna pay for it.  The rest is their problem," Vodka says, casting a glance at the display of chopsticks on the bar.  "You know, I feel like if I ate ONLY with chopsticks, I could be skinnier.  It would take me so much more time."
We Should Write a Diet Book About This Concept. It Would Be One Page: "Use Chopsticks"
Of course, the same could be true if we ate at places like Desnuda every day, which would be the fastest way to starve us known to man.  Instead, we march out of Desnuda and straight down East 7th Street to an Italian restaurant, where we proceed to down bread, cheese, and pasta by the forkful.
So Just to Confirm, We Have Already Forsaken Our Chopstick Policy
And just for spite, we blow out the candle on our table, as we have already had more than enough smoke for one evening.

Desnuda's Tea-Smoked Oysters: 1 star