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...