Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Varutha Moolai and other specialities

You haven’t really eaten in New York unless you’ve eaten with the Gastronauts. This club enables New Yorkers to eat things at restaurants that typically aren’t on those restaurants’ menus.

Last month, I joined them for an evening at Southern Spice in Flushing, Queens. Every time I attend one of these meetings, my excitement level goes through the roof. The regular members are fun to talk to and conversations are informative and interesting. It’s always a pleasure to take part.

First the Rabbit Masala. While most pieces of rabbit were of the regular size and shape variety, I had strong urge to grab the one and only skull. The meat wasn’t better nor worse than the rest, but there was much less of it. Most of what can be seen here was bone and I had to move on. Sort of gamey, venison-like, tasty. (7)

Vowvaal Mean (pomfreet steamed in banana leaf) Tender fish came right off the bone, although I prefer other fish flavors over this one. (5)

Sura Puttu (Shark Scrambled) Not bad, not great either. Again, something with the flavor just wasn’t like the shark steaks on the grill I remember growing up as a kid. I think it was the flavoring. (5)

Crab Masala Uthappam Like crepes filled with masala crab meat. I could have eaten fifty of these. Absolutely heavenly! (10)

Varutha Moolai (Goat Brain) Very rich and tender. A salty, creamy sauce covered the zombie food. Compared with the brain quesadillas, I would make a second trip back to La Superior as opposed to giving varutha moolai a second go. But overall, it was a very tasty dish worth trying. (8) Continue...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Weird Drinks Party Part 1

The Soviet Chemistry Lab

Buratino, Baikal, and Tarkhun are brands of sugary carbonated soft drinks usually consumed at kids' birthday parties but I'm only now discovering their dark secrets!

Buratino (6/10)

Named after the Russian version of "Pinocchio", this drink has no equivalent that I've ever tasted in any other culture. It's somewhere between faint apple and orange soda, but neither one of the two in particular. This drink is the least sugary of the 3 Russian sodas, and scores points for stirring up nostalgic memories of my last birthday in Russia.

Baikal (4/10)

The Soviet answer to Coca-Cola, this drink is sweeter than Coke, but it doesn't have that umph! of the secret ingredient in Coke.

It is named after the Olympic star of all world lakes: Baikal Lake is at once the most voluminous, the deepest, and the clearest of all freshwater lakes in the world, and is located in Siberia. I love the label on this drink showing a muddy-brown tidal wave of Coke imitation soda threateningly hovering over the pristine waters of Baikal.

Tarkhun (4/10)

It looks like it came from the Chernobyl nuclear plant and tastes equally radioactive. Its 26g of sugar per 250 ml serving do not really mask the chemical flavor of the drink. The scary part is that the contents do not list any food coloring so the radioactive green color must be the effect of mixing all other ingredients (or maybe they just forgot to list it).

I've always thought that the word "Tarkhun" had no meaning, but the English translation "Tarragon" on the label led me to discover that the primary flavor in this drink is tarragon, an herb related to wormwood, which is used to make the most famous green drink of all - absinthe. So Tarkhun must be the kids' version of absinthe.

Like absinthe, Tarkhun needs to be properly mixed with a complementary mildly-flavored liquid in order to be enjoyed. Independent of all my absinthe-related realizations, we fortuitously discovered that Tarkhun and Birch Tree Juice complemented each other very well and made an actually tolerable, even enjoyable cocktail (5/10).


Birch Tree Juice (4/10)

Birch sap, much like maple sap (used to make maple syrup) is collected by drilling small holes in young birch trees and by letting the sap drip out into a bottle. It contains water, enzymes, proteins, amino acids and sugars and is considered a healthy tonic. On its own it tastes like sugar water.

Kvas (8/10)

This is a fermented drink derived from rye or rye bread. It is very dark brown in color and tastes a bit like carbonated yeast. "Kvas" is derived from the word "acid" in Polish and the origin of the drink dates to 5000 years, around the same time humans discovered beer.

Although it contains up to 1.4% alcohol, Kvas is considered suitable for children. It is popular in all post-soviet republics and is ubiquitous in Eastern European groceries and restaurants. Kvas is similar to non-alcoholic beer.

In the spirit of Russian feasts, we "chased" our fabulous drinks with sumptuous red caviar sandwiches.

All of the above can be procured at most Russian/Ukranian/Eastern Bloc food stores, such as:
B & B International Food @ 12-17 River Rd Fair Lawn, NJ or
Net Cost Market @ 608 Sheepshead Bay Rd, Brooklyn, NY 11224 Continue...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Grasshoppers, Huitlacoche, Cactus Fries @ Toloache (251 W. 50th Street)

The other day we ventured out beyond our biggest fears by going to a restaurant that had grasshoppers on its regular menu. We figured if we want to be taken seriously as a Weird Food Club, we have to have tried at least 1 insect in our lives.

Yes, grasshoppers are horribly scary-looking, but not that much worse than crawfish (if you think about it), and people in Oaxaca, Mexico eat them like popcorn. Besides, they're a great source of protein!

So we asked for a bowl of crunchy grasshoppers as a starter at Toloache.

In this picture, Rob demonstrates how tiny the little fried buggers were. They were so small we could barely see the head and the legs, which made it that much easier to put them in our mouths and swallow. They were very crunchy and sour (we debated whether that was the actual taste of grasshopper guts or just lime juice).

We also got 2 portions of the grasshopper stuffing used in Toloache's tacos, fruit guacamole, cactus fries, avocado fries and Huitlacoche.

Grasshopper Taco Stuffing (4/10): was hot, moist, and even more sour than the dried grasshoppers. The cooking and stirring of the stuffing chopped up the grasshoppers into smaller pieces, so it was difficult to find one with its legs and head intact. We had to spoon the stuffing onto our chips and eat it like a choppy paste. You could only sometimes detect a crunch of a leg, but the stuffing was mostly uniformly hot, moist and incredibly limey.

I've learned that eating insects is not so bad, and I'm going to continue my search for bigger and scarier insects in New York (comment if you know where I could get some!)

Cactus Fries (6/10): tasted just like you'd expect cactus to taste - a little bit like aloe in texture, and somewhat tasteless.

Avocado Fries (8/10): this was a lesson that everything can be deep fried... and occasionally come out amazing. Avocado fries were more succulent and flavorful than cactus fries.

Fruit Guacamole (9/10): the individual ingredients were not unusual at all - avocado, strawberries and pomegranate seeds, but the combination was absolutely heavenly.

"You don't like this? It tastes like truffles!"

Huitlacoche (2/10): literally means "raven shit" in Nahuatl, and is sometimes referred to as "corn smut". Both of those names are exceptionally appetizing so there was no way we'd pass on it.

It smelled like sweaty socks. And the texture was pretty... shitty. If it smelled like excrement with the same texture, I probably wouldn't be able to eat it. But I could do "shit texture" plus "smell of dirty socks" for a couple of bites.

Huitlacoche was almost as bad as natto (the worst food I've ever tried). Ok, to be fair, huitlacoche had more of a rotten mushroom texture - a little bit chewy and sometimes gooey.

I had 2 spoon-fulls of huitlacoche on a piece of tostada chip, while Felix was swallowing the stuff like it was jam! He said it tasted like truffles. I've never had truffles so I can't compare the taste/texture/smell, but if it's anything like huitlacoche, I'll need to organize a Weird Food Club outing just for truffles.

Luckily for us in the States, the demand for huitlacoche among high end restaurants is growing and the USDA recently allowed some farmers in Florida and Pennsylvania to intentionally infect corn with huitlacoche. There shouldn't be any shortage of it any time soon!


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Pork: The Other White Cheek

Sure, there are pork chops, bacon, and even pork brain Mexican food, but none are finer than pork cheek.

My girlfriend and I dined at Thomas Beisl, which serves up some classic Austrian dishes at respectable prices.

For starters, get the chicken liver terrine w/ cranberry compote. A word of caution: it’s very rich and since my girlfriend is not the pate type, I was forced to gorge on this heavy concoction which I could have used less of. In other words, it’s necessary to share, ideally with three or four people, but two will work if you have a craving and plenty of bread, which your server will bring you at will.

Then, finally, with great anticipation, came the cheek. It was succulent and delightful. It had a that fatty pork taste, like a pork chop, but even more tender. It was served over sauerkraut which was essential for my enjoyment of this dish. Overall, it was absolutely delightful.

Rating (1-10)

6 for the terrine, 9 for the cheek.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I’ll Have the Other Duck

Geoduck (gooey –duck) is not really duck at all but a large, strange-looking freshwater calm indigenous to the Pacific Northwest. Mirugai, as it is known in Japan, is hard to find in the city, I was excited when my girlfriend took me to Soto as a surprise.

Soto is perhaps one of the best (and affordable) sushi restaurants in NYC and my new favorite. It’s not Masa and it’s by no means cheap, close to $100 for two, but considering the quality and relatively inexpensive pricing, it was well worth it. I preferred the atmosphere here to Megu’s gaudy space, and the service was satisfactory.

Aside from the incredible freshness of everything served, the most exciting part of the evening was when the Mirugai came. With a texture like squid, and natural flavor masked by the sauce, it wasn’t the sashimi experience I had hoped for, but it was fantastic none-the-less.

The Mirugai earns an 8/10.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Alligator at Mara's Homemade (342 E. 6th Street)

In a long row of Indian places on E. 6th street, Mara’s Homemade can easily be missed. But this small place that serves Cajun specialties deserves some attention, at least for the fact that its regular menu lists alligator.

Gator Bites 6/10
Gator Bites is an $11 appetizer that is easily shareable among 3-4 people. The gator bites consisted of small pieces of white Louisiana alligator meat marinated in a Cajun sauce, dusted in seasoned cornmeal, fried and served with Remoulade Sauce for dipping. Our waitress informed us that the alligator is shipped from Louisiana, fresh, and is deep fried on premises.

The bites looked and tasted like chicken nuggets, but were slightly smaller in size and a bit tougher and sinewy in texture. They went very well with beer.

Fried Pickles 7/10
Fried Pickles ($6) were prepared and served the same way as the alligator bites. I was actually more in love with the fried pickles than the alligator. The pickles were deliciously sour, and that burst of flavor was a real surprise each time you bit into something deep fried because our brains are trained to expect some kind of meat rather than a pickle in breaded/deep-fried form.

Crawfish, the southern name for crayfish 6/10
Crayfish/crawdads/crawfish are freshwater crustaceans resembling small lobsters, to which they are related. 98% of crayfish harvested in the US come from Louisiana, where the standard culinary terms are crawfish or ecrevisses. Louisiana crawfish are boiled live in a large pot with heavy seasoning (salt, cayenne pepper, lemon, garlic, bay leaves, etc.) The crawfish at Mara’s Homemade were as red-hot as they looked. They were unbearably spicy but really fun to play with. I personally liked to dangle them by their little feelers and looking them in the eyes before eating them. They look like tiny lobsters the size of shrimp, and are really good in $16 crawfish cheesecake (quiche with pieces of crawfish) but not so great on their own.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Congee Village Part 2

To follow up on our previous post, more needs to be said about
Congee Village
(100 Allen Street). Congee Village is a goldmine for the culinary adventure seeker. Half of their menu consisting of 250 original Chinese Cantonese dishes should be listed on this blog. Duck Tongues and Congealed Duck Blood featured earlier are just scratching the surface of the ridiculously long list of bizarre items that they serve daily:

Sea Cucumber, Abalone (sea snails), Geoduck, Conch, Live Shrimp
Duck’s Blood, Pig’s Blood Porridge
Shark Fin Soup, Turtle Soup
Bird’s Nest
Roasted young pigeon
Goose Web (goose feet)
Jelly Fish
Duck Tongue
Goose Intestine, Baked Fish Intestine in Clay Pot (which must taste a lot like kani miso – crab intestines)
Pork Stomach, Pork Stomach Porridge

Duck Tongues
Our greatest surprise was that duck tongue had a little bone in it, and overall didn’t taste that great. While I am a huge fan of cow tongue, duck tongue tasted nothing like it. We preferred the taste of goose intestines to the duck tongue!
"Eating duck tongue feels like you're making out with a duck"

Alex of and veteran Weird Food Club member felt like she was “making out with a duck” and found it so freaky she couldn’t have more than one. I was able to swallow 5 tongues, and Arseny laid waste to about 10 tongues.

Pig’s Blood Porridge
This rice porridge with floating cubes of congealed blood tasted similar to the duck blood dish described earlier. The cubes had a defined iron taste to them, and were fairly inedible. If you like blood sausage, it doesn't mean you'll like this.

Kevin believes duck blood is almost as bad as kani miso, the worst thing he has ever tried. I would like to nominate natto to the “worst thing I’ve ever tried” contest. Eating natto feels like you’re chewing on excrement. Apparently, we’re not the first to nominate these two items as the worst food ever. This lively discussion is way ahead of us.

Shark Fin Soup
We intended to get the $13.95 bowl of shark fin soup, but we were accidentally given a $45 bowl of “supreme” shark fin soup. There may be a subtle difference between the supreme and the poor-man’s shark fin soup, but we certainly couldn’t tell them apart.

Shark fin soup is considered a luxury dish in Chinese culture and is served at special occasions like weddings. Like many unusual things I’ve tried (jellyfish, bull penis, sea cucumber), shark fin has very little flavor of its own and is used for its noodle-like texture and ability to absorb flavors from soup broth and sauces, as well as for its rarity.

The practice of shark finning is controversial due to its brutality and its contribution to global decline of many shark species. Shark fins are removed from the shark and the rest of the still living shark is thrown into the ocean. The finless sharks are unable to swim, sink to the ocean floor and die.

If ever faced with the choice to get shark fin soup, we do not recommend that you get it. The taste, texture and the entire experience do not justify supporting the shark finning industry. I truly regret that I tried it.
Additionally, shark fin contains high levels of mercury and is dangerous for young children, pregnant women and may cause male sterility… so that makes it really not worth it!

Congee Village is a place to check off a bunch of crazy food on your “to try” list, but none of it was a truly satisfying experience. Our best advice is don’t order just the weird stuff at Congee Village, unless you want to leave hungry. Continue...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I'll Have the Duck (Congee Village Part 1)

Chinese isn’t just General Tso’s and Beef & Broccoli anymore. Congee Village is a staple in the LES and this week, I ordered Duck Tongue & Sugar Peas with XO Sauce as well as Duck’s Blood with Chives. The Duck Tongue was slightly chewy but the XO Sauce made it tasty. Also, the name is a misnomer since the dish actually consists of many duck tongues, around 30 of them.

The Duck’s Blood was gelatinous and had an unpleasant smell to it. That and the aftertaste made the blood less appetizing and ultimately the “loser” of the night.

Rating (1-10)

I have to give the duck blood a (1). It was absolutely terrible. It has a smell and taste that ensured my consumption of only a few pieces. It wasn't the worst thing I had ever eaten, which was kani miso, but it definitely wasn't appetizing in the slightest. It was a big let down. I had drank turtle blood fortified with sake in Tokyo and the experience was amazing for two reasons: 1) Drinking blood sounds hardcore and 2) the sake-turtle blood cocktail tasted good. Okay, it tasted okay, but it was tolerable. Congealed duck blood didn't blow me away like I was hoping it would.

The duck tongue gets a (6) but that's probably generously attributed to how refreshing the greasy XO sauce-covered fatty tongue meat was in comparison to the blood. Think raw clams/oysters texture meets marinated chicken flavor.

Recommendations: Share an order of duck tongue between 4-6 people with plenty of beer, skip the blood.

Pigeon at Blue Ribbon Brasserie (97 Sullivan Street)

Ever since I spotted one of these alien-like pigeon coop structures in Egypt, I've been meaning to try pigeon. Pigeon is a national delicacy in Egypt, and is consumed in other countries, including France. Because most people associate pigeon with dirt and disease, pigeon meat was re-branded as "squab" and can be found in quite a few places in New York.

It is on the regular menu at The Egyptian Kitchen (35 1st Avenue), a sketchy little hot-food bar in the East Village, but they don't have it every day. If you want good hamam mahshi (pigeon stuffed with rice/wheat), you'd need to go to Queens or get a special order for a group of 50+ at Casa La Femme (140 Charles Street). Congee Village (100 Allen Street), the mother of all weird food, has a pigeon dish as well.

We wanted a high-class pigeon experience, so we went to The Blue Ribbon Brasserie where we ordered:
Beef Marrow & Oxtail Marmalade 10/10
Steak Tartare 9/10
Sweetbreads 8/10
Pigeon 9/10
Rack of Lamb 9/10
Red Trout 8/10
Flounder 8/10
Duck 9/10

All of these dishes were stellar. The pigeon dish came with 2 legs and a couple of small slices of breast. It tasted much like duck, although actual duck was juicier.

Pigeon was the reason we went to Blue Ribbon in the first place (and it was worth it), but the highlight of the evening was the bone marrow & oxtail marmalade. Benjamin, our server at Blue Ribbon, was kind enough to explain the long cooking process for bone marrow:

Bones cut by the butcher -> Bones cleaned -> Bones put in brine for 1.5 days to drain the blood -> Bones baked -> Bones arranged on plate -> Oxtail marmalade added (there's a long process of preparing that as well) -> Parsley, bread added.
The eating process was equally fun: the bones come with wooden sticks that are used to scoop the marrow and push it out of the bone. The texture was delightfully gelatinous and paired well with crunchy slices of toasted bread.

We loved our food at Blue Ribbon so much, that we forgot to ask the burning question on all of our minds: "where does the restaurant procure its pigeon?". Now we'll never know! One thing we do know though is that if the economy gets any worse, we'll be able to survive by hunting in the city... at least until there are no more pigeons left.

Lesson Learned at Blue Ribbon: pigeon is perfectly edible and now we know we can survive in this city if all hell breaks loose!

Afterwards we checked out honey wine (the generic modern word for mead) a few blocks away at Camaje (85 macdougal st). The wine smelled and tasted like honey but had the usual consistency of white wine. I was hoping it would be a bit more dense. Nothing of the sort. Just a regular wine that smells and tastes like honey!

The best part of Camaje was the awesome living-room like furniture arrangement they've got in the front. It felt like we were hanging out on a couch at someone's house with a coffee table full of magazines, books and even a chess board -- great hang out spot. Continue...

Wild Game at Les Halles (15 John Street) limited time only

We went out with a few coworkers to celebrate the end of a project, and we chose Les Halles [pronounced: "leh al"], which is our go-to place for nice lunches on the company card - it's delicious and only a block away from the office, and there's no f-ing way we'd pay for it ourselves.

They are having a whole menu of new wild game specials until Nov 13, including wild boar, which has been on my to try list for a while. They also have pheasant. An entire Wild Boar entree sounded like too much to handle for lunch, so I got the wild boar terrine and the petatou de chevre (a tower of potatoes and olives with some chevre on top). I am now in a food coma. My coworker and I are looking for a nice quiet conference room to take a nap in.

Those two look like they're having fun, no? This is what my terrine was made out of.

So now I can cross off "wild boar" in my list of foods to try, but honestly the wild boar terrine didn't taste any different from regular terrine. So next time you see it: pass.

I'd love to try their pheasant though. Continue...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Bread in a Can?

This weekend I partook in an old New England tradition: baked beans, hot dogs, and brown bread. This bread-like substance comes out of the can dripping in molasses and it eaten with butter.

Rating (1-10)
Bread wasn't too bad (6), although I didn't love it. More dry than I expected. According to the nutritional facts, it's mostly sodium and sugar. Surprisingly little fat content, but then again, that's why you add butter.

Ensalada de Nopalitos

The previous evening we ate steak, baked potatoes, and, you guessed it... ensalada de nopalitos (cactus salad). I picked up some pickled catcus at Zeytuna in lower Manhattan, found a recipie online, and went to town.

Rating (1-10)
The pickling definitely added flavor to the vegetable which mixed well with the other peppers, corn, and spices (8). I am definitely going to make this again.

Not to Be Outdone

I must say, I was a little jealous of Kat and her penis-eating habits. So my girlfriend and I had to go to Kenka, eat the penis, stingray, and pig’s feet in an effort to one-up my friend and colleague.

Rating (1-10)
Penis (5) wasn’t as bad as I was anticipating. The stingray (7) was the “winner” and the pig feet (3) were least appetizing. Although, I’ve been hearing good things about pig’s feet so I intend to eat it elsewhere and give the dish a second chance.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Haggis at St. Andrews (140 W. 46th street)

Ever since I saw Andrew Zimmern’s episode on making haggis in Edinburgh, Scotland, I’ve been hoping to cut open an intestine bag full of… cooked intestines myself.

Except, Haggis is not made of intestines. Haggis is a Scottish dish containing sheep's 'pluck' (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally boiled in the animal's stomach for approximately three hours. Yum - heart, liver and lungs are my favorite!

My research pointed me to a couple of places in New York that serve haggis --ChipShop in Park Slope (383 5th Avenue) and St. Andrews near Times Square (140 W. 46th street). I had a couple of tickets to a new Broadway production of Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs”, so the choice between the two came down to location.

St. Andrews looked like a decent enough place for being in the middle of Tourist Central. Their menu listed haggis, along with a decent selection of scotch, and boasted of its kilted bartenders, with a joke attached no less. When you see someone wearing a kilt, you are supposed to ask “What are you wearing under there?” The proper answer to that, of course, is “Shoes!” Unfortunately, our server was not wearing a kilt, and we failed to peer into the bar area, so we can’t testify if indeed they have kilted bartenders.

Most of us ordered the homemade haggis with neeps ‘n’ tatties (turnips and mashed potatoes in Scotts-speak), which is on their appetizer menu. I was licking my chops waiting for a bag of organs, but it turned out that the haggis they serve is “open haggis”, possibly in order to avoid scaring the tourists who can’t handle the sight of entrails.

Open haggis consisted of a small serving of the core of the haggis (the boiled ‘pluck’ part) neatly placed on top of mashed potatoes and topped with turnip puree, all in one neat cylindrical shape. The tower was sprinkled with some parsley and surrounded by a moat of gravy. The presentation was flawless for the less adventurous eaters, but was slightly disappointing for us weirdos. We wanted the whole shebang – stomach and all.

On the bright side, this dish tasted GREAT. It was completely edible and delicious. It tasted like Sheppard's pie with a little bit of heart, liver and lung tanginess. We were all very happy with it, although some of that can be attributed to the scotch consumed prior to and during the meal.

Rating (1-10)
Presentation: 8 (wish we had the original type of haggis in the stomach, but the castle-like structure of this open haggis was beautiful)
Taste: 8 (pretty darn good, although I expected a more pungent flavor. It was overall pretty mild for its reputation)
Texture: 8 (you can eat it even if you chew with dentures!)
Price: $10.95 (it was a satisfying meal for just an appetizer too)
Best part: St. Andrews is smack in the middle of the theater district and the food happens to actually be good -- it makes a fabulous choice for a pre-show dinner.

Please comment: Has anyone tried haggis at ChipShop? Is it any good? Is it deep fried? Anyone know a place that serves closed haggis? Continue...

Friday, October 30, 2009

We are all zombies now... Brain at La Superior (295 Berry Street, Williamsburg)

Just in time for Halloween, this entry is about eating brain. Now, everything you know about brain is true. Zombies eat it. Eating brain will turn you into a zombie… and if not, it will at the very least give you multiple sclerosis. So hop on the bandwagon, and eat some brain already... All the cool kids are doing it.

You can try brain at at least two places in New York City. Les Enfants Terribles (37 Canal Street) has deep fried sheep brain as a dinner special (call in advance to confirm that they have it that night), and if you’d like to eat brain on any night of the week, go to La Superior (295 Berry Street, Williamsburg).

I met La Superior's chef Nacxi Gaxiola through a friend. Nacxi didn't hesitate to tell me that he serves brain as soon as I mentioned this blog. He loves to find unusual combinations of ingredients for his dishes and is currently working on perfecting his pig face soup recipe.

We tried La Superior’s Sesadillas (quesadillas de sesos or pork brain quesadillas without the cheese) -- they were tiny little bites of brain goodness. My favorite Weird Food Club enthusiast Arseny described the brain's texture as similar to "soy bean paste".

To make sesadillas, Nacxi boils the brain, sautés it, adds some scallion, parsley, and other greens, puts it in the quesadilla shell and I assume does something else to it (didn’t hear the rest of the secret recipe…) Whatever it is, $3 is worth it so you can mark off “brain” in your long list of things to try in order to up your chances of developing idiopathic diseases. You can also try La Superior’s Taco Lengua (beef tongue taco) and pig feet.

Rating (1-10)
Presentation: 6 La Superior scores points for coming up with the idea of putting brain in a quesadilla, but the scratched plastic plates they were served on did not impress
Texture: 5 Wish the brain was less cooked to get the total gross, goopy effect
Taste: 7 Ttasted like ground pork, the added parsley was great
Price: $3

Surgeon General's Warning: Eating brain may cause side effects like dizziness, blindness, cerebral atrophy, involuntary facial spasms, and walking with arms outstretched. Weird Food Club members experienced at least four of these side effects. Continue...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fictional Foods and Beverages

I hosted a housewarming party last weekend for my family, who are all huge Potter-fans. I wanted to make something interesting, so I decided to make butterbeer. We were debating whether butterbeer exists outside of the Potter universe, but this was a question easily resolved by a quick wikipedia search. Butterbeer is exclusively a J.K. Rowling invention.

Here's the recipe that I tried.

1 cup (8 oz) club soda or cream soda
1/2 cup (4 oz) butterscotch syrup (ice cream topping)
1/2 tablespoon butter

Measure butterscotch and butter into a 2 cup (16 oz) glass. Microwave on high for 1 to 1½ minutes, or until syrup is bubbly and butter is completely incorporated. Stir and cool for 30 seconds, then slowly mix in club soda. Mixture will fizz quite a bit. Serve in two coffee mugs or small glasses.

Result: it turned out way too sweet and too buttery to drink more than 1 tablespoon. It was fizzy and buttery though - just as it's intended to be.

Other butterbeer recipes like this might be better.

This spawned another discussion on the topic of mead and ambrosia.

This recipe for ambrosia salad made out of canned fruits sounds completely lame. My coworkers think ambrosia should taste like barfi, an Indian dessert made out of cashews/almonds and milk.

Barfi (great name for a delicious, yellowish dessert wrapped in edible tin foil!)

And although mead is not a fictional drink, few people make it nowadays, so it qualifies as "weird". Manhattan Meadery took on the challenge of bringing it back to the people. You can try their mead at the following places in New York:

Astor Wine & Spirits – 399 Lafayette St, New York NY
Chelsea Wine Vault – 75 9th Ave, New York, NY
Big Nose, Full Body Wine Shop – 382 7th Ave, Brooklyn, NY
Spuyten Duyvil – 359 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn, NY
Abigail Cafe and Wine Bar – 807 Classon Ave. Brooklyn, NY
Camaje Resturant – 85 Macdougal St, New York, NY
Perilla – 9 Jones St, New York, NY Continue...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream @ Lulu and Mooky's (129 Allen St)

The only chemistry lesson that left a lifelong impression on me was a demonstration of what liquid nitrogen could do to an organic object like a flower, or a human hand…

Now you can have your own delicious and hopefully emergency room-free chemistry demo at Lulu & Mooky’s, a tiny new LES ice cream parlor where a dude in a lab coat will make you liquid nitrogen ice cream from one of 45 suggested flavors or one of your own invention.

Watch out though – not all flavor combinations will taste great. Our mango-kiwi monster tasted like tuna and garnered 6 votes for “yucky”. Rosemary & burnt sugar flavor got 5 “yum” votes though! Other favorites were red sour cherry & pear, and ginger.

Liquid nitrogen (or LN2) has been a darling ingredient of many molecular gastronomists, and for good reason. Making ice cream with LN2 has several advantages to the regular fridge and/or ice approaches:
- fewer crystals form, so the ice cream ends up with a very buttery texture
- the freezing process is almost instant, so ice cream can be made fresh for each customer.

Watching ice cream being made with funky fog is part of the fun, but because it took 2 minutes to process each order, we were wondering how Lulu & Mooky’s would handle big crowds in the summer time. As a group of generous business consultants and entrepreneurs, we offered lots of free business advice to the dude in the lab coat – we’ll see if L&M will listen! ☺

Rating (1-10)
Presentation: 9 (We loved watching LN2 in action, but we would have liked to see the parlor decorated with more color or possibly with photos of extremely attractive people eating their ice cream – we told L&M they can always use our slideshow!)
Taste: 7 (hit or miss. Avoid the mango-kiwi combination, as well as flavors #46 and 47 - click on the slideshow to discover what they are)
Texture: 8 (very creamy)
Price: $4 for 1 cup (2 scoops) Continue...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How I ate The Queen of Jellyfish in Queens

If you’ve tried jellyfish once, you’re a newbie. If you’ve tried jellyfish in three different dishes in one evening, that’s what I call a real accomplishment.

And that’s what we did at the last Gastronauts outing at Waterfront International Enterprises, Inc. (A.K.A. Fu Run) @ 40-09 Prince Street, Flushing, Queens. Do you need any more reason than Jellyfish Three Ways to spend 2.5 hours in the subway? Nope, you really don’t.

Fu Run was packed with roughly 60 gastronauts by the time Kevin, his girlfriend Jess and I arrived. We started with bottles of Tsingtao (the restaurant quickly ran out of them, and we had to make do with pitchers of Bud Light) and skin jelly (we still have no idea what that is).

The menu was shockingly long (16 courses), and not a single item could have been considered usual fare by any means. A few things on there were downright mysterious – is tiger vegetable a piece of a tiger? what is blotch soup?

The star of the evening, of course, was the jellyfish. Crunchy and absolutely tasteless, jellyfish is like tofu – it will taste like anything you put on it. Jellyfish with hot sauce tasted like crunchy noodles of hot sauce, jellyfish with scallion mostly tasted like crunchy scallion.

The Prom Queen of Jellyfish Dishes was Jellyfish Leg – gorgeous to the sight and completely vapid on the inside. I took many photos of this beautiful thing but got absolutely nothing out of it when I actually stuffed it in my mouth.

My favorite item on the menu was stew of miscellaneous fish with home style cookies. This dish was delicious, beautifully presented and filling. It really felt like a friend’s grandma made this stuff. On the other side of the spectrum, the least tasty dish on the menu was lamb stomach - it felt like a sheep was hanging under my nose while I was eating a goopy piece of meat.

Highlight of the outing: pics of me eating agaric ended up on the Gastronauts website and I got an email from Gastronauts founder Curtiss letting me know that I looked like his high school sweetheart.... maybe next time dinner will be on him? I'll make sure not to bring my boyfriend ;-)

Rating (1-10)
Presentation: 8 (Jellyfish legs are sexy)
Taste: 4 (It is absolutely tasteless!)
Texture: 7 (Crunchy!)
Price: Jellyfish on its own is probably a pretty cheap thing to eat (just go to Brighton Beach, catch some and cook it at home), but the overall 16-course meal was $50.
Will I ever go back to Flushing again? Only for live baby octopus. Continue...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Gastronauts: a great discovery

In our quest for weird food, Kevin and I searched for other likeminded food-crazy freaks who may have already created a list of NYC restaurants worthy of our patronage. Fortuitously, we came across Gastronauts, a club for adventurous eaters.

With a mailing list of over 2000 subscribers, Gastronauts founders Ben & Curtiss organize a monthly outing to restaurants that serve unusual food. Seating is very limited (depending on the size of the place), and RSVP spots go as quickly as galoshes in the Soviet Union.

Receiving membership to the club involves writing a short paragraph about yourself. I think I wrote a book about all the weird stuff I’ve had: my favorite bull penis, bacon-flavored cheerios, marmite, bone marrow, lard, durian, pig and chicken feet, steak tartar, blood sausage, Kobe beef, horse steak, horse sushi, etc. No surprise, membership was granted with a short response from Curtiss: “You had us at bone marrow. :)” I know, I might have come off a bit overzealous.

To all skeptics who believe there are only four places in NYC that serve unusual food, the Gastronauts list of 43 restaurants so far visited contains:

Waterfront International Enterprises, Inc. (AKA Fu Run) – jellyfish, triple pork intestines
Roberta’s – fluke (whale tail), sea urchin, fennel pollen, etc
Lamb and Jaffy – peach soup, octopus, squid, calf brains, etc
San Rasa – polose (Jack Fruit), baby goat ox tongue, etc
Himalayan Yak – all parts of yak, etc
La Fusta – sweetbreads, tripe, tongue, liver, etc
Su San Seafood – live baby octopus, etc
Grand Dakar - knuckle soup, tripe and feet stew, etc
Trestle on Tenth – blood, liver sausage, etc
Mokeytown – rattlesnake, frog leg terrine, warm turtle salad, etc
Xiao La Jiao – rabbit, pig ear, bullfrog, etc
Henry’s End – wild boar belly, quail stuffed with figs, etc
and many more... Continue...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bull Penis (Kenka, 22 St. Marks Pl)

Kenka in the middle of St. Marks Pl is probably the best of the tourist-friendly yet quintessentially New York places for the adventurous eater. You'll know you're in the right place when you see the gigantic statue of a Japanese raccoon dog (Tanuki) with huge testicles and blinking light-bulb eyes outside the restaurant. The giant testicles definitely set the course of the night down a certain theme, for we came to the place to sample their most famous dish -- Bull Penis.

Alcohol tends to help with the touching of penises of any species, so we started off with huge mugs of Sapporo and sake. We had quite a large group at Kenka. Believe me, when you eat Penis, you want witnesses - so I recommend going here with a group of good-hearted friends, rather than a date... unless you want it to become more awkward than it probably already is. :-P

Our own Kenka expert Kai (former Kenka employee) recommended specifying that you want bull penis "with the head" when you order. I assume that the bull penis is so big, that you could potentially get a piece that doesn't have it??!

In terms of taste, my fellow adventurous eater Alex said: "It tastes like a blow job covered in sauce." So think of that next time you try bull penis. The restaurant also has a cotton candy making machine outside, so if bull penis is not your idea of dessert, you can always have pure sugar.

The best part about bull penis and Kenka in general, is that it is very affordable: $5 beers, $5.50 penis.

Rating (1-10)
Presentation: 7 (Decent. If they presented the penis on a silver plate with shavings of gold, I'd give it a 10)
Taste: 6 (mostly tastes like sauce)
Texture: 8 (cartilage)
Price: $5.50
Will I eat it again? Yes, but not for nutritional purposes. Continue...

About the Creators of Weird Food Club

Kevin & Kat at the office, displaying items they scored at The Free Store . Unfortunately, the Free Store is now closed (tends to happen with non-profit social/arts projects). Kevin and Kat were very sad when the Free Store closed. They needed a new outlet for their energy and love. Luckily for our readers, Kevin & Kat's love is now directed toward Weird Food Club. Continue...

Welcome to Weird Food Club

Friends have noticed that whenever I go to a new restaurant, instead of trying a staple dish to assess how well they make it in comparison to other places, I tend to get the weirdest thing on the menu. Whether it ends up good or bad is not a question in my mind at the moment of making my order. I only care about trying something new, unusual, sometimes yucky that other people would dare not try.

With the popularity of food critics like Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain, and even travel show hosts like Samantha Brown, and their bizarre food excursions, weird food itself is becoming of interest to many people.

I love to travel, but with a full-time office job, like many people, I only get a limited number of vacation days. However, luckily, my partner in crime / bizarre food enthusiast Kevin and I live in New York, the most diverse of culinary melting pots, so we bring to you a blog about all the weirdest foods you can find in New York City.

This is one of the first google image results for "weird food". Wouldn't you want to try these delicious chicken feet? Continue...