Friday, December 2, 2016

Off the Map: If This Were a Real New York System, It Would Be Called a HOT DOG

Hot Wieners -- Olneyville New York System, Providence, RI
Olneyville NY System

After a completely humdrum experience at Al Forno, Vodka and her friend, Mezcal, are ready for one thing and one thing only: a hot dog. 
Now You're Speaking Our Language
Luckily, the only other dish featured on Providence's Best Thing I Ever Ate list is the hot wieners from Olneyville New York System, which were recommended by Guy Fieri on the REGIONAL FAVORITES episode.
New York, Phone Home
Yes, That's Right, Providence. We're Just Here to Eat
Thankfully, the establishment is our preferred level of "nearly empty" when our (blessedly more competent Uber driver) drops us off, and we mosey onto two stools as Vodka asks for "two hot dogs all the way," you know, just like the locals do.

Grave mistake.
Miss Congeniality, This Place Is Not
"First time here?" a worker asks. "Cause they're wieners."

"Well, I was close," Vodka retorts.

"Not really," the guy informs her.
Listen, Buddy -- Perhaps You Should Hang Onto the Customers You've Got
Despite Vodka's error, he still deigns to place a "wiener" in front of each of us, piled up with chili, onions, mustard, and celery salt. 
Kudos for the Split Plates
He also provides us each with a pour of their famous "coffee milk" to wash down the wiener. And less than two minutes later, both our plates and our glasses are empty.
Is This Coffee Milk Caffeinated? Because We Have to Go to Sleep in Like Ten Minutes
The hot dogs (which despite being corrected, we insist on calling them) are indeed quite good. Not one of our personal favorites, but good all the same. 
Polished Off in Thirty Seconds or Less
Though the coffee milk, which is essentially the coffee version of chocolate milk, is arguably more interesting than the dogs themselves.
Plus, They Inexplicably Gave Us a Bumper Sticker. Perhaps We Can Give It to Our Uber Driver
When we leave the premises, we pose for a selfie underneath a sign proclaiming "EAT," which is pretty much our whole reason for coming to Providence in the first place. It is at this point that a random person parked on the street steps out of his car to offer to take the picture for us, an act of goodwill so generous that we momentarily consider upping the hot wieners' rating to 5 stars.
"Momentarily" Being the Key Word
But then again, that is a privilege reserved only for hot dogs.

Olneyville New York System's Hot Wieners: 4 stars

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Off the Map: You'll Have to Excuse Us, Providence -- We Almost Died

Golden Delicious Apple Tart -- Al Forno, Providence, RI
Al Forno

Here is the difference between Vodka and the Providence, RI, Uber drivers: she expected to make it out of their town alive; they felt no obligation to fulfill this expectation.
Oh Yes, By All Means, Feel Free to Drive Right Through This Fence
At least, this is the conclusion Vodka has drawn after a particularly reckless driver decided that highway medians were merely rough guidelines, and certainly something that his minivan could plow over without incident. Guess what? There was an incident.
Because Somehow, When It Comes to Us, There Is ALWAYS An Incident
When, by some miracle, Vodka and her friend, Mezcal, manage to arrive at Al Forno relatively unscathed, we are not exactly in our right minds. 
And the 93 Possible Entrances With Locked Doors Don't Help
Full on ignoring the bustling bar area of the restaurant, Vodka asks our seemingly confused waiter, "Do you have cocktails or just wine?" as if she has absolutely no idea how one orders alcohol. 
Heaven Knows She's Done Enough of It in Her Day -- It Should Surely Be Second Nature by Now
Additionally, while attempting to photograph the corn on the cob ceiling decor, it takes Vodka much longer than it should to realize that her flash is inexplicably turned on (one of her own top 10 restaurant pet peeves), resulting in not only blurry pictures, but Vodka scolding herself in an unintelligible rant.
"Wait, Is My Flash On?! How Is My Flash On?! My Flash Is Never On!"
Once Vodka Remembered How to Use Her Camera
It is in this state that our waiter decides to start an endless monologue featuring the most prolific list of dinner specials known to man (which, not for nothing, it is soon revealed that at least half of these dishes are already "sold out." In which case, why don't you STOP TELLING US ABOUT THEM so we can all move on with our lives? After all, if the Providence Uber drivers have anything to say about it, we won't have much of our lives left to live.)
No Need for Niceties -- Just Bring Us Some Food
Once he is finally finished enlightening us, we settle on the fedelini with rib eye meatballs and a Manhattan (Vodka) and the pepperoni pizza with a class of Malbec (Mezcal). 
Call Us Crazy, But Pretty Sure the Olive Garden Could Do Better
While we wait, we receive a bread basket with the teeniest, tiniest pitcher of olive oil this side of the Atlantic, leaving us to assume that along with running out of all of their nightly specials, Al Forno is also beginning to run low on its condiments.
Can You Spot the Miniature Olive Oil?
Our entrees end up being strictly "fine," if verging on pedestrian. But after all, they are not the reason we're here. That distinction falls on the golden delicious apple tart, as recommended by Alex Guarnaschelli on the SWEET TOOTH episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate
We Nearly Lost Our Lives for You, Apple Tart. You Best Be Worth It
The tart itself is indeed as pretty as Alex had described, with extremely thin slices of apple tucked into a bed of dough and powdered sugar. 
Essentially a Pie Without Its Top
And its taste? Well, it's certainly not bad. The crust is thin and ever-so-slightly browned, the apples aren't overpoweringly sweet, and the combination of the two is pleasing enough.
Why Eat the Fruit When You Can Eat the Carbs?
But is it life-changing? Definitely not. Would it convince us to make another trip to Al Forno, or to Providence itself? Not necessarily.

Especially not if a median stood in our way.

Al Forno's Golden Delicious Apple Tart: 3 stars

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Into the Boroughs: We're Only Here Cause We Have a Gift Card

Meatloaf Sandwich -- Rye, Brooklyn, NY

In what should come as a surprise to no one, Vodka has spent the better part of the past two weeks engaged in a heated customer service battle.  After a particularly contentious interaction with the manager of a Michael Psilakis dining establishment, Vodka has taken her complaints to the very top of the restaurant group, eventually resulting in a $50.00 gift card to MP Taverna in Williamsburg (aka the poor souls who, through no fault of their own, ended up on the receiving end of Vodka's wrath by the mere "fortune" of having the most Googleable phone number).
Getting Mad in Manhattan Leads to Revenge in Brooklyn
Because Vodka is spiteful, she is adamant that she will not spend a dollar more than the $50 afforded her, and she therefore recruits Ginger, always up for a half-price day drink, to accompany her to the place's happy hour... where we manage to spend precisely $50.09.  For once in our lives, math is on our side.
For the Record, We Also Left a Tip. We Are Not Barbarians
Luckily -- or unluckily for them, as the case may be -- because we had refused to order anything more than a dip plate at MP Taverna, so as to not exceed our quota (after all, we needed to fit four drinks within that $50), we are forced to find another place in Williamsburg in which to actually consume food.
Now What Is That Majestic Sign Beckoning Us in a Distance?
We discover that Rye is a mere ten minutes away, and it is home to none other than the chosen Best Thing I Ever Ate MESSY dish of Michael Psilakis himself, the meatloaf sandwich.
Not Pictured: The Stray Cat That Was Circling the Entrance. Welcome to Brooklyn
Once again, Rye has the misfortune of being on the receiving end of Vodka's current distrust of all Psilakis-endorsed products, as if he cannot be relied upon to hire a competent restaurant manager, we're not sure what business he has judging meatloaf.
As a Warning, Psilakis, Vodka Tends to Hold a Grudge
Upon being seated at Rye, we notice a placard proclaiming their happy hour specials: a $5 Old-Fashioned and a $5 burger.
Too Bad We Have to Eat the Meatloaf Instead -- Thwarted Again!
Vodka takes them up on the Old-Fashioned offer, while Ginger goes back to her roots with a gin martini.
Putting the Gin in Ginger
Upon tasting the Old-Fashioned, it becomes obvious why it's so cheap: there is hardly any liquor in it (at least to Vodka's discerning tastebuds).
Yes, This Time, Could I Have One with Some Whiskey?
She quickly downs the concoction and asks for a Bulleit Manhattan, which arrives in the smallest cocktail glass known to man.
Here's a Hint, Rye: We Like a BIG POUR and We Have Bad Spatial Relations Skills
"Why do restaurants do this?" Ginger scoffs.  "What is the point of ever, EVER, making a drink look smaller?"  She lifts her own glass for a toast anyway, while Vodka bats her hand out of the way for
the sake of a picture.  ("Cheers.  Oh, never mind."  How soon Ginger forgets the rules and regulations of this blog).
This Interaction Followed Vodka Having to Boot Ginger Out of the Doorway In Order to Capture This All-Important Shot
To Rye's great credit, when we placed our order, we specified that we would be sharing the meatloaf sandwich, and they take it upon themselves to saw the creation in half and present us each with our own plate, thus doubling our serving of pickles (always a plus).
Thanks For Not Making Us Look Like Cheapskates
The meatloaf itself is piled high with crispy onions which are pleasingly salty, and it is sandwiched between a focaccia roll which manages to hug the sandwich's insides (also including caramelized onions and greens) in all the right places, holding the whole thing together (therefore, we're really not sure what Michael Psilakis was talking about with his MESSY demarcation, not that we're complaining, as we hate messy things).  Despite these strong components, however, the sandwich itself underwhelms us.  There is nothing offensive about it, but it's not particularly wonderful either.  What is most disconcerting is that despite the fact that there are not one, not two, but THREE varieties of pickles on our platters, we don't find any of them particularly pleasing (partly because they are quite spicy for our liking).  In fact, we leave the majority of them on our plates, which is unheard of when it comes to us and pickles.
Meaning We Are Not Pickle Connoisseurs. We Will Eat Any Pickle Placed in Front of Us. Except These
True to form, when it comes time to pay, Vodka whips yet another gift certificate out of her bag, this one from acquiring a multitude of OpenTable points.  Which seems to hammer home the point that if there's one way to get us to venture to Brooklyn on a regular basis, it is to ply us with the thought of free food and alcohol.
You're Welcome for Our Presence, Williamsburg
Unless, of course, Brooklyn would just prefer us to stay home.  Which somehow seems more likely.

Rye's Meatloaf Sandwich: 3 stars

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Off the Map: Still Crazy (and Hostile and Drunk) After All These Years

Twenty Vegetable Fried Rice -- China Poblano, Las Vegas, NV
China Poblano

After twenty-two years of being friends with Vodka, Chianti and Bloody Mary knew to expect that at a certain point in our Las Vegas trip, she would grow hostile.
Things That Are Inevitable: Death, Taxes, Vodka Complaining
Unluckily for Jose Andres's China Poblano, our arrival on its premises coincides with the time Vodka has chosen to unleash her hostility, and Chianti and Bloody Mary and metaphorically cowering at the look of displeasure on Vodka's face.
Someone Appease the Situation with Some Cocktails, and Stat
"Why are we seated in the bar area?  We had a reservation," Vodka asks as soon as the hostess leaves our table.
Did We Not Already Make Clear That We Like Things QUIET?
"It's ALL a bar," Chianti points out, which one sweep around the room proves to be true.  In Vodka's defense, there is a lot to be confused by in China Poblano: the set-up; the Asian/Mexican fusion menu; the fact that the bathroom features a single stall; the cheap chopsticks; and the order of food arrival (but more on that later).
Seriously Though with the Splintery Chopsticks
We are here to consume Johnny Iuzzini's Best Thing I Ever Ate Twenty Vegetable Fried Rice from the LAS VEGAS episode, and of course, to consume a cocktail (or two).
Or Three or Four or Five
Vodka sticks to her weekend choice of Manhattans, while Bloody Mary picks the Ron Cooper and Chianti, the Little Riddle.
We're About to Swing from the Chandelier...
...or in China Poblano's Case, from Some Misplaced Bicycle Wheels
"That'll roll your socks down," Chianti proclaims immediately after tasting hers, so if nothing else, at least China Poblano's cocktails pack more of a punch that the weak foam-absent monstrosities at Wazuzu.
It Is Beginning to Make Sense Why This Place Consists Primarily of Bar
We soon place our food order for the fried rice, the vegetarian spring rolls, the Lucky 6 Siu Mai, the Beijing Glass, and the chilaquiles, along with one taco each (fish for Vodka and Bloody Mary, mushroom for Chianti).  We also specify that we'd like the chilaquiles to come out first, being that we are hankering for some nachos.
If There Is One Thing All of Vodka's Friends Have in Common, It Is a Solid Love of Carbs and Cheese
Cut to three minutes later, when a single fish taco is placed in front of Vodka as the taco delivery boy walks away without fanfare.
Um, Thank You?
"Why am I the only one with a taco?!" Vodka, patient as ever, calls out.  A minute later, a second fish taco is dumped in front of Bloody Mary, with Chianti's still missing in action.
What Happens to Tacos at China Poblano When They Aren't All Served At the Same Time: THEY FALL APART
"This is nonsense," Vodka announces, searching for someone -- anyone -- to seek out Chianti's absent taco.  "There are so many men in suits wandering around and nobody helping."  Without exaggeration, Chianti's taco eventually appears a solid five minutes after Vodka's had arrived -- from the initial tray of the same taco delivery boy.  To say this is an inefficient system is the tip of the iceberg, as it is one that doesn't even remotely make sense.
Better Late Than... Actually, Never Mind
Plus, as you may recall, we asked for the chilaquiles FIRST.
Doesn't This Look Appetizing?
"The waiter is trying hard," Bloody Mary defends our server, to which Vodka immediately retorts, "NOT HARD ENOUGH," as we all dive into our decidedly lukewarm tacos.  The fish variety is rather sad, free of the crispy fried coating that usually makes such creations enjoyable, and the mushroom one is certainly nothing to write home about.
In Other Words, BLEH
The Beijing Glass is placed on our table next (note: still no chilaquiles to be found) around the same time that the waiter comes by and tells us that they are out of spring rolls.

Um, what now?
Can't You Wrap This Up Into a Roll?!
How are you out of spring rolls, and even more egregiously, how are you out of spring rolls at 7:40pm?!  It's not exactly like we're burning the midnight oils around here.  This is Vegas -- it's practically noon, by relative standards of time, and you're out of a menu mainstay.
Way to Seal Your Fate Before the Meal Is Halfway Through, China Poblano
Rather than replace the dish, we ford through the other items we have chosen.  The Beijing Glass and sui mai are both fine if unremarkable, while the chilaquiles (once they finally arrive) are nothing short of delectable.
They are far and away the most successful dish we have tasted at China Poblano, and if left to our own devices (and if we had any confidence they'd ever make it out of the kitchen on time), we would eat two more plates of them.
Presumably Because We Are Hungry from Our Lack of Spring Rolls
In contrast, the twenty vegetable fried rice is nothing special.
Color Us Unimpressed
Save for a few more veggies than normal, we can't discern the difference between this variety and the one found in every Chinese takeout place across the country.
So Apparently All the Vegetables Have Been Placed On TOP of the Rice
Okay, Sooooo... It's Rice and It's Fried and It Has Vegetables In It....
We manage to lick the platter clean, mostly due to the fact that it is a solid morning-after-drinking food and we are decidedly on the downward spiral to tipsy.
Hey, Just Because It's Boring Doesn't Mean We Won't Eat It
Perhaps the greatest miracle of Vegas is that despite all of China Poblano's foibles, we leave the premises without Vodka taking out a waiter, a manager, or an unsuspecting busboy.  Or at least, that's the story we're sticking to.  After all, you know what they say about what happens in Vegas....

China Poblano's Twenty Vegetable Fried Rice: 3 stars