We are going all Italian this week here at JAETAF. Did you know that was our acronym, by the way? Jay-taff. Use it on the streets. See what happens.
This past Saturday we decided to do some heavy hitting in the Italian department. First up, some coal oven pizza at a NYC institution, Lombardi's (incidentally, the only NYC pizzeria besides Grimaldi's in DUMBO to operate a coal oven), followed by the Fiat Gallery in Soho with a GQ sponsored event where itty-bitty cars would be complemented by tiny shots of Lavazza espresso.
But first to fuel up on Margherita pies!
Lombardi's is a pretty large place. There are multiple rooms and even a basement room (where John and I sat). From the start, the sheer size of the place concerned us. We had doubts whether a place that needed to churn out that many pies in such volume could maintain a high quality, brick oven product. And volume needed to be produced because even though it was fairly early on a Saturday evening, the place was packed and we had to wait for a table. So we staked out seats at the bar and sipped Sixpoint beer in anticipation. Sidenote - should an Italian brick oven pizzeria offer Sangria? Moving on...
We order a split pie: half Margherita to maintain standards of comparison, and half decorated with Lombardi's house made pork and beef meatballs. Our 18" pie has a few standout characteristics that put us on guard:
1. The crust is rather flat and evenly baked. No puffy Neapolitan cornicone here. And no coal-fired char marks, save for one large bubble.
2. The pie is stiff, lacking that floppy quality that makes a well functioning brick oven pie chewy and delightfully unwieldy.
However, there are some redeeming qualities: The basil is liberally applied, and the sauce has a simple, tangy, pure tomato taste of which we both approve. John could have used a bit more, however. Additionally, the cheese provides a noticeable salty, milky flavor.
As often happens, the meatballs steal the show. Moist, flavorful and bite-sized, like meat popcorn, they are a perfect pizza accessory.
The lavatory was pretty standard issue. It seemed more like a closet with plumbing. But everything was clean. Bonus accessories included Windex (?) and a motion-sensored paper towel dispenser. The mirror was mesmerizing as well...
John and I were largely underwhelmed by Lombardi's pie. Between the two coal oven contenders, we both agree that Grimaldi's is considerably better. You may not – Yahoo doesn't. You can read their opinion here.
Overall Experience: Vanilla Sky - The Average Restaurant
On with the show! We ambled several blocks to the Fiat Gallery on Wooster Street. We had been promised (via Urban Daddy) the possibility of test driving Fiats, and we both had Italian Job-esque dreams of hurtling through the streets of Soho in a perfectly polished red rollerskate.
Our test driving dreams were squashed, but we did get to sit in the show room models and make convincing vrooooom-vrooooom noises. That helped a bit.
All joking aside, the exhibit was pretty fun. The evening's events were sponsored by GQ and we got to wander around artistically-rendered Fiat hoods, sample Lavazza espresso, sip Peroni's, and get our photos taken!
John looks quite at home, no?
More events will be running until May 1st. You can check out the full list here.
Entries in Restaurants (25)
It was a warm(ish) spring twilight. The smell of fried chicken was in the air. Or at least in my head - sometimes I get the two confused. But what better way to spend a spring evening than chowing down on expertly fried chicken? And you can even feel good about this chicken that is fried to a delicate and deliciously salty, crunchy crisp because they birds are all-natural, local and organic.
Where is this fried chicken haven of which I speak? Dirty Bird to-go on 14th Street near 7th Avenue. I ventured there last week to get the smell of fried chicken out of my head and into my hands (and stomach).
First a few words about the bird: Chicken is an every-man's meat (for people that eat meat, that is). It's a staple. It shows up on the dinner table all the time. Perhaps too much? That depends on what kind of chicken you're eating, I guess.
People often get frustrated with chicken. I know the Box does. He grimmaces like a child when it's placed in front of him at the dinner table, recoiling visibly from his plate. His sentiments are echoed in this hilarious scene from Little Miss Sunshine:
Warning: There's some not-so-nice language in the video. So if dropping the f-bomb ain't you're thang, you might want to skip it.
But at Dirty Bird, there's no reason to curse the chicken. Let me illustrate with photos:
A teeny tiny storefront, the main feature is the walk-up counter, complete with extra friendly servers. Really, these people were just so nice. I feel like I should know their names.
I ordered a three-piece dark meat sampler with garlic kale. The chicken itself was juicy and flavorful – a perfect amount of salt. The outer fry crust had me pulling all the fried bits off the bone that I could find. Plus scraping any wayward ones up that had fallen to my very cool, camping-style blue plate. It's amazing what a little buttermilk can do. The kale mingled with some large chunks of garlic and was wading in a bath of tangy, slightly vinegar-y liquid. I scooped up every last leaf in the bowl. The kale was not overcooked and soggy, but vegetable al-dente, preserving some snap.
Also noteworthy are the Chicken Fingers: tender and juicy white meat coated in the same light buttermilk fry. If chickens had fingers, they would want these. I recommend the BBQ sauce – you can taste molasses, which adds depth to the flavor. The Mac and Cheese was off the charts. It was like hot, cheesy ice cream with pasta in it. I wanted to put it in a cone. This is a good thing.
None that I could find.
Afterward, if you need a powder room and a glass of wine, head to the bar just up the street – The Crooked Knife. Flop onto their couches and order some Cotes-du-Rhone. That's what I did, anyway.
Overall Experience: The Big Lebowski – The Cult Classic
And next, in our Meals on Reels series is a scene from Napoleon Dynamite, a movie with many fascinating characters. But, to me, one of them really steals the show: Uncle Rico. Played by John Gries (who also, by the way, played Roger Linus in one our of favorite shows, "Lost"), Rico is simultaneous villain and hero, evoking sentiments of pity, humor and disgust. All of Rico's scenes are brilliantly hilarious.
Of particular and relevant hilarity (this is a food blog), is the scene in which Rico grabs Kip's steak, with his bare hands, and hurls it at the cycling duo of Napoleon and Pedro, smacking the former right in his grill and knocking off his glasses, which is followed by Rico's how-you-like-me-now type celebration, and Kip's "that's what I'm talkin' about."
And speaking of steak, the fam and I were recently at Sammy's Ye Old Cider Mill, in Mendham NJ. In terms of Jersey steakhouses, this is really my favorite option, despite the influx of quality, chain operated steakhouses popping up in the surrounding area such as Ruth's Chris and Roots. Those other joints just don't compare to the intangible qualities that Sammy's brings to the table. (But if it's suits, unoriginality, and cheesy, wall mounted, gold plated Ronald Reagan quotes you desire, it's best to stick the latter mentioned joints).
Let me first qualify this review with a slight bias: My family and I have been coming to Sammy's since I could walk (and perhaps maybe even before then). So there is undoubtedly a nostalgic benefit that I receive from Sammy's that others may not.
But nostalgic bias aside, this place has so much character. Sammy's offers a unique dining experience: you order right when you walk in the door. When your order is placed, you wait downstairs at their bar, with old video games (such as Pac Man, Centepede, and Pinball) until a holler from the bartender, who might as well be Coach from Cheers, alerts you that your meal is ready.
After games, drinking and mingling, it's up to the old, never-modernized dining hall you go, complete with dull green, landscape painted walls from decades ago - which was done as payment from a former patron who could not pay his restaurant tab.
At your table awaiting you is the greatest red wine vinegar salad I've ever tasted. With iceburg lettuce and chopped onions, this "salad" probably holds zero nutritional value, but who cares? If you're calorie counting, you're not in the right restaurant. And you're pissing me off.
The fam follows this up with a Sammy's staple: The Vodka Pasta (for 4, in this case).
I've sampled vodka sauce from a good amount of places. There is nothing, nowhere, nada that compares to Sammy's Vodka Pasta. If I were receiving the electric chair tomorrow? This would be my final meal. It's cheesy, salty, spicy (ahem!), and creamy. It has bits of fresh tomatoes in it and rocks your world with every mouthful. Sprinkle some parmesan cheese on each helping, and you've just put the finishing touches on an absolute masterpiece.
For an entree, I order the Surf (Lobster) and Turf (the strip), which thankfully comes with a bib. I'm a slob as it is. At Sammy's, I've been known to take out cats two tables over with some errant lobster fluid.
The Strip (the above picture is actually the box's filet) is lean, with some tastier streaks of marble towards the bone. It is cooked as asked (medium rare) and perfectly salted, juicy, and tender. The Lobster is meaty, sweet and substantial. It doesn't fall apart or get stuck in portions of the shell when I'm tearing into it. No digging into the dead lobster crevasses to uncover left behind chunks of meat; it all slides out as one piece.
Elana orders the shrimp scampi. If I somehow survived that initial go around within the electric chair, and was given a second meal to ingest before my apparent death, I might go with the scampi. Elana is generous enough to share some of hers, so I can be reminded of the greatness that is Scampi a la Sammy: jumbo, breaded shrimp bathing in a thick, potent, lemon garlic butter sauce. The sauce alone can be eaten like soup, it's so outrageously tasty.
All of this comes with Sammy's signature fries, which are crispy and brown but also quite moist and flavorful. Sea salt is sprinkled about. Much like the rest of the meal, steer clear of the fries should you be monitoring your cholesterol. So. Damn. Good.
Marmo and Elana save room for some of Sammy's satisfying desserts.
While I'm moaning and clutching my stomach from overeating for the 163,403rd time in my career, Elana checks out the bathrooms, which as she puts it, "like the dining room in that they are similarly outdated, but charming. The tiled floor is left-over retro-chic, and there are thankfully large mirrors. The only element that has always unnerved me is the western-saloon style doors to the stalls. I always feel kind of exposed when I'm behind them."
A former speakeasy, there still is no sign out front and nothing about the place, not even the video games, signify an update beyond the 1980's. But its food, feel and experience make a timeless impression. I never get tired of this place.
Overall Experience: Animal House
Our first film: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Chow down on some garlic bread with these recipes while you watch.
Our second film: My Cousin Vinny. Streak your hair, get out your leather and go to Brooklyn for grits at Egg!
Our third film: If you fry it, they will come: Hot dogs and Field of Dreams. Magic in the Moonlight.
In other news, I'll be traveling to South Beach today for my first Triathlon of the season. You can also get the recipe for my home made energy bars at that link. Tweeting will be light as I don't want to take out my pre-race panic attacks on you lovely people.
Come Monday or Tuesday we might have some more BIG NEWS. So stay tuned. And we will also be continuing our Meals on Reels program. Don't forget to send us your favorite movie/food scenes! Post 'em in the comments!
Have a great weekend!
Girls have a collection of chick flicks. Guys have Field of Dreams. Perhaps the only movie in which a fella can unashamedly admit to shedding a tear or two. And when Ray Kinsella's brother in law shows up to foreclose on the farm towards the end of the movie, things get a little intense.
At this point, the film has undoubtedly reached its climax. All the known characters, dead and alive, good and evil, have essentially convened on or around the ballfield to await Ray's decision on the farm. Stay or Sell? "People will come" advises Ray's daughter Karin, which then prompts Terry's articulate speech about baseball and its historic qualities which, if marketed correctly, would easily make Ray a first ballot Hall of Famer in the unique but lucrative niche business of harnessing the dead's talents for one's own personal gain (like in the cases of Elvis, the Beatles, etc). It would also provide Ray a way out from his more pressing financial woes.
But Ray's at-the-time evil brother in-law isn't having it. Evil bro-in-law shoves Karin off of the bleachers, who falls to the ground and lies motionless. What to do? Call an ambulance is Annie Kinsella's first reaction.
"Annie wait," says Ray, the tension building with each precious second passing. Ray's appearance of nonchalance in the situation is anything but. Rather, it is faith. Faith that Dr. Archibald Wright "Moonlight" Graham (a real person, by the way) will forgo the remainder of his lifelong dream of playing in the big leagues and instead cross over that magical stone line, turn into an old geezer doctor and save Karin's life. And Ray's faith pays off.
And the scene that follows is absolute goosebump city. (<---- Click to watch)
Graham, played brilliantly by the late Burt Lancaster (the younger version of Graham is quite capably acted by Frank Whaley as well), saves Karin's life by forcing out the hot dog which is lodged in her throat. And the hot dog, boys and girls, is what this post will be about.
The other day, my boss Andrew and I were out on the road coming back from a client meeting when he suggested that we make a quick detour through Rutt's Hut on 417 River Road in Clifton, NJ. Andrew, a self proclaimed hot dog aficionado, insisted that my visit to Rutt's Hutt would be time well spent. He was right.
While no aficionado of hot dogs myself, I'm no stranger to a good ol' dog. When I was growing up, Dad quite regularly resorted to the practice of cooking up some juicily boiled dogs for dinner when Mom was out for the evening. To this day, The Box maintains a rigid adherence to Thuman's Pork and Beef frankfurters, which he claims have the best "snap" of all supermarket available dogs. And I'm not scared to dive into a Grey's Papaya after a late night in the City. Long story short, I know a good dog when I see one. And it's not you, Toby! (Elana's dog...We have our differences).
But Rutt's was a totally unique experience. The scene inside is quite dated and bare. A take-out counter with some standing tables and extended window ledges to chow down at. My colleague Andrew shakes hands with who appears to be the owner (a friendly, blinged-out crucifix donning fellow named John) and orders me three particular kinds of dogs, all of which are more scorched than the next. "We gawt a rookie here?" John says, nodding his head in my direction.
First up is what Rutt's calls "The Ripper." The least scorched (by veggie oil) of the three that I had, it's still more charred than any dog I've had in recent memory. Each chomp just about dislodges the skin entirely from the meat, so you are essentially eating two different foods with two totally different consistencies, simultaneously. But it's ultimately a successful exploration in wiener cooking science.
Second is what is termed "The Weller" which is a more aggressively charred frank. In fact, it is so torched that the outer portions of the meat immediately beneath the skin have essentially been disintegrated into a thick crust of bacon-like flavor and texture. The nucleus is still meaty, however.
And then there is the "Creamator" (above) which, in addition to being fried in oil, appears like it has been shoved into electrical sockets, struck by lightning, and screamed at by six hundred fire breathing dragons. The entire diameter of the sausage has been completely, well, "creamated" into a semi-delicate shell of fat, salt and burn. And it's pretty "dog"garn tasty, to be honest. It's airy and crispy, like someone had rolled a few strips of bacon together and strategically placed them at the equator for a couple of months.
And as I successfully housed all the dogs in impressive time, and exited the establishment, I could have sworn John called out to me..."Hey Rookie...You were good." Like baseball and, indeed, the masterpiece that is Field of Dreams, Rutt's Hut Hot Dogs is an American classic that should be enjoyed by men everywhere. Ladies, on the other hand, just may not understand its message.
Overall Experience: The Big Lebowski