Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The 15 Best Dishes in NYC

Sam Sifton, the N.Y. Times' food critic, lists the 15 best dishes he tasted in the city during the year 2010. That previous hyperlink has a photo montage of the 15 dishes, and here's the article that accompanies the photo list. Based on his choices, I'd say he has a passion for Italian and Spanish foods.

One of those dishes is called Devil's Chicken, and it looks like an entree worth trying the next time I happen to be in NYC.

One of the dishes is called "Guacamole de Frutas." Although I love guacamole, I'm skeptical of whether this version improves on the traditional recipe. Diced apple, pear and cranberries are in this dish, as well as (sigh) the annoyingly trendy pomegranate seeds. This dish is prepared at a Mexican restaurant in mid-town called Toloache, whose interior is pictured above.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Buffet of Bugs

The photo you just glanced at (above) happens to be a grasshopper taco. Some people are urging societies to promote the eating of insects as a way to ensure mass sustainability during future periods of famine, war or other types of upheaval. And there's at least one cookbook out there that provides recipes for cooking and eating insects.

Angelina Jolie can actually tell you what insects taste like. As this book confirms, the actress has eaten a Cambodian cockroach and bee larvae.

However, one doesn't have to travel to the Third World to sample insects. There has been at least one restaurant in New York City (operating for a few years now) that serves a grasshopper taco. So what does grasshopper taste like? Mike Peed, a food critic for The New Yorker, reviewed the restaurant Toloache in 2008, and the final sentences of his review offer his blunt assessment:
Inquire about a grasshopper taco and hear (the chef say), "I was born in Oaxaca. We used to catch them in our backyard by the handfuls. They are delicious!" Curious, lifelike, not delicious.

Friday, December 17, 2010

She Has Issues . . . Food Issues

Gilbert Sewall wonders if food allergies, tastes and quirks are enough to discourage anyone from hosting a dinner party. On a San Francisco Chronicle blog, Sewall writes that in California . . .
. . . everyone has a Food Issue. It's becoming a signature there, like a car, a statement of who and what one is.

. . . I knew something was up over lunch when I brought out the spaghetti. A guest I had never met before let out a strange little gasp. I can't eat wheat, she said. A dear friend then announced he had a big problem with refined sugar. And, he said firmly, anything that might include it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Epicurious Joins the "Apps" World

More foodie websites are capitalizing on the high interest in new "apps" for smartphones. The latest site is Epicurious, which is one of my favorite websites.

Epicurious just contacted its list of registered visitors to alert them to its app for the iPad and iPhone, which allows users to "sync your personal recipe box to your mobile device!"

It's interesting timing because NPR's "Morning Edition" aired the final part of a series today that essentially said that cookbooks (the actual physical beasts that take up bookshelf space) are likely to survive the digital area. The view is that people will look online for specific recipes for special occasions, but that they enjoy browsing through cookbooks when they have no particular culinary agenda.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Adams Morgan, Culinary Wasteland

I have lived in or adjacent to this neighborhood of D.C. for 20 years, and I have heard a whole lot of people talk through the years about Adams Morgan's "renaissance." But a stroll down 18th Street reminded me of what a restaurant wasteland this area is.

With the exception of Perry's, La Fourchette and Napoleon Bistro, there really isn't any place I can think of worth eating at in Adams Morgan. And that's probably why the latter two eateries are often full up (so prepare for a wait).

There was a time in the mid-1990s when Cashion's Eat Place was actually a destination restaurant. Stunned to learn that? It's true. But the competition from other neighborhoods and downtown has definitely improved . . . and, well, Cashion's has not. I ate brunch there the other day, and that was a big mistake.

Stale rolls were brought to our table. I waited 10 minutes after ordering for my (lukewarm) latte to arrive. The cornmeal waffles were bland, and what accompanied them was an apple mush.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Vanishing Restaurant Owner-Host

I've always found something incredibly charming about a restaurant owner who doubles as the host, welcoming you as you enter and/or stopping by your table to check on how your meal is going. As the N.Y. Times notes, this owner-host situation is increasingly rare.

Noting the death of one such person (restaurateur Elaine Kaufman), the Times explores the rapidly disappearing joint role of owner-host in this article. By the way, Woody Allen was one of the regulars who dined at her restaurant, Elaine's. In its article, the Times writes:
... the notion of the host as the most important person in a given restaurant’s success is wavering.

Chefs are the draw in this modern age, and the more famous and customer-accessible, the better. Former line cooks now walk dining rooms like kings, celebrities from television, whose every utterance is recorded on blogs.

The business of restaurants is no longer so dependent on the presence of an owner in the dining room to dispense favors or act as gatekeeper to a private club. (Let us not forget: For every person who recalls Ms. Kaufman’s kindness at Elaine’s, there are others who remember her rudely barring the door or telling someone to get out.)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Powdered Sugar? No Thanks

What is this strange love affair that so many restaurant chefs have with powdered sugar? You can't go to brunch and order pancakes, French toast or waffles without seeing your plate arrive with a thorough dusting of powdered sugar. Yuck.

I have nothing against sugar, but there are so many better ways to enjoy the sweet stuff. Granulated sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup and molasses all provide better, richer tastes and more interesting textures than powdered sugar. Besides, given that diners who order pancakes or French toast are already planning to pour syrup over them, powdered sugar is superfluous.

In my view, the only reason to buy powdered sugar is to make cake frosting.