Saturday, February 17, 2007

Back in Civilization

Yay! We're back in Brooklyn, where the temperature's a balmy 27 and the residual curbside snow piles can be climbed easily even in high-heeled suede boots. K. and I blithely left our snowboots upstate, and so far, the sunny weather is as happy as can be.

Lucky for you, the wifi was down in the Syracuse airport on Thursday, otherwise you'd still be digging out of a mountain of hour-by-hour commentary on the hell that was JetBlue air travel that day. The flight: 45 minutes. The wait: 10+ hours. K. was sanguine, though, having been through much worse during the past year. "At least we're not carrying rockets," she pointed out, and I couldn't disagree.

But now we're here, and oh joy, I can walk to the supermarket, walk to the all-night diner on Smith St where we ended our traveling ordeal with 2am eggs and toast, walk to Chestnut, where we had our welcome-back dinner and where we got not only Daniel's off-the-menu grandma cooking (split pea soup with ham) but also the tasty leftovers from Wednesday's Valentine tasting menu, including smashing fresh Dungeness crab (rolled with cilantro and shredded red cabbage in translucent, Vietnamese-style rice-paper rolls) in tamarind-peanut sauce and a dessert lagniappe of four chocolates (meyer lemon, hazelnut, blueberry in white chocolate and meyer lemon again). The standout was the Turbodog special, spoon-soft short ribs braised in brawny Abita Turbodog ale, served over a rutabaga-potato mash with Satur Farms (Long Island) baby carrots (actual small carrots, that is, not the carved-up little supermarket fingers) and a dusting of horseradish.

B. and his pal Gaby stopped by for dessert, and we all slurped down cups of thick Mexican hot chocolate with freshly made, feathery light cinnamon-sugar churros. Churros became the topic du jour for a while; turns out a guy sells churros down in the bowels of the 6th Ave subway station, near the L train, according to Gaby. You can also get them at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, Northern California's Coney Island.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Ice Cream in Winter

Maybe because it's 15 degrees out there, with all-day every-day lake effect snow warnings on the radio every hour. Or maybe it's the sauna-hot temp of our steam-heated apartment. Whatever the reason, what I'm thinking about right now is...

Ice Cream! Specifically, the burnt-caramel ice cream being served up at the Bi Rite Creamery in San Francisco. The Bi-Rite Market, nearby, is one of the best places in my old neighborhood, a tiny but excellent gourmet market with everything you'd want to eat jammed into it, from organic blood oranges, Acme walnut levain bread, and Green & Red zinfandel to Scharffenberger chocolate mini-bars and fresh wild-caught salmon. And flowers, fancy booze, and loads of good juices and cool sodas. It also didn't hurt that it was right next door to my favorite restaurant and equidistant from Tartine Bakery and the Dolores Park Cafe.

Because I'm, like, old, I can still recall the pre-gourmet days of this stretch of 18th St, when Tartine was the danish-and-birthday-cake Carl's, and the rest of the businesses were junk shops, barber shops, and old-lady beauty parlors. On the corner was a dingy health-food restaurant called Real Good Karma, aka Real Bad Karma, because everyone had a really bad date/breakup story from that place. Across the street was Anna's Danish Butter Cookies, a 50-year-old place decked out with a cheery red-and-white striped awning. Yes, Anna was making from scratch the kind of cookies usually found only in pleated paper cups inside that big blue metal tin. You know, the grandma container, last filled with cookies in 1973, now a receptacle for old buttons, ball-point pen caps, and broken crayons in perpetuity.

But that was, oh, 1992 or so. You can't buy a beat-up Campbells Soup Kids commemorative bicentennial mug for 50 cents or a huge cherry danish waxed with squiggly white icing here anymore. My second San Francisco girlfriend no longer lives just up the street across from the huge cocktail glass sparkling with pink neon bubbles over the corner dive. The dive that advertised "Open at 6AM" on the sign outside, and actually was, the Sunday morning when we were getting a cab from a long Saturday night in SF General's emergency room, and the driver refused to make change from our single $20 bill. There was the dive, and yes, very early on a Sunday morning, they were open and willing to break a twenty for a woman wearing a leopard fake-fur coat, a black rubber halter top, and blue surgical booties. The same girlfriend who, when I finally had to cop to the fact that I was ditching her for a glamorous, if drunken, local Elvis impersonator, hissed miserably at me over mushroomy brown-rice slop at Real Good Karma. As Jen would say, small city, long life (see "like, old", above). But I digress.

So the sleepy, low-rent charm is gone, but it's still very much a neighborhood strip, at least during the day. And Bi-Rite now has an ice cream store! I haven't eaten there yet (although I'm heading there as soon as my California-bound plane touches down in mid-April) but word on the (Chowhound) street is already very thumbs up. We'll see; can Bi-Rite truly rival Paris's Berthillon in the satiny caramel ice cream taste test? Stay tuned, or tell me what you've eaten lately down on 18th St.

But sometimes I crave egg creams more than ice cream, and this place is making them:it's called the Soda Shop, owned by the guy behind Anglers and Writers and the Bespeckled Trout, both now-closed Village spots. The BT was a candy-shop-cum-soda-fountain in my old Hudson St West Village nabe. I wanted to like it, although as a business it didn't seem to have much going on; it was more a stage set for a olde-time candy store than a place where you could actually purchase things. I think I got one of their much-vaunted egg creams once; it wasn't memorable, except for the cranky lady who really didn't seem to want to be bothered to make it. But maybe they're doing better at this new location; if nothing else, the fabulously scavenged decor (black walnut paneling from the Plaza Hotel! Marble from old banks!) sounds worth a look.

What? You ask what is this egg cream of which I speak? According to E., it's an ice cream soda without the ice cream, aka completely pointless. But he's from California, a great place but not one that knows from egg creams. Egg creams, like bialys and black-and-white cookies, are a New York City thing. Chocolate syrup (traditionally, Fox's U-Bet), milk, and seltzer not poured from a plastic bottle but shpritzed in forcefully from the cartridge-loaded nozzle of a heavy glass soda siphon. It's sweet and chocolatey and fizzy, a little like a homemade Yoo-Hoo.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Chicken Soup for the Snowbound

Lake-effect snow: I know what this means now. What it means in this town is huge out-of-nowhere dumps of white, drifts higher than your head, cars slipping and sliding and nosing head first into the giant lumpy piles on the side of the road. We spent Sunday holed up in the apartment after one white-knuckled foray down the street to the gas-station store. Frozen pizza was our friend that night, as was the Sunday Times crossword.

But I was finally able to cook for real last night, using the blade on K's Leatherman tool to chop onions, garlic, parsnips, and carrots, whenever K. wasn't using it herself to put up shelves or do other useful tasks around the house following our afternoon in the lumber and screws aisles of Home Depot. The chopped veg and a couple of chicken thighs and drumsticks all simmered in the one beat-up enamel saucepan that I'd brought with me from the Old Country, meaning Brooklyn, to make a batch of cold-fighting Jewish pencillin, aka Matzoh-Ball Soup. Apple crisp in the oven, and toast and butter on the table. We were sated and happy, and somewhere, so is my round little Jewish grandma, whose own soup can never be surpassed.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Up in Snowland

There's a lot of snow in upstate New York at this time of year. White, gray, and dirty white are the colors of the landscape, and there's not much to do here except go to the mall. Farmland and dairy ranches are more profitable paved over and turned into sprawling parking lots for big-box stores and Dunkin Donuts.

But I'm so, so happy to be back with K. now. Even if she wakes up at 3am every night, ready to start her day on some spun-around circadian rhythm. We do crossword puzzles, make fun of Saveur magazine's "Saveur 100" list, eat pop tarts (well, she does, at least; I don't have an excuse) and toss the pillows around until it's time to nap again just before dawn. Thanks to some kind of market-researching as to What Do People Want in their chain-hotel room, everything in the room tells you what it is or what it does. The pillow cases are monogrammed "soft" or "firm"; the soap is imprinted with the word "cleanse"; the lotion and mouthwash are marked "soften" and "freshen", respectively. Good to know the verbs are earning their keep here.

This town is generally a restaurant wasteland; if you like fold-out laminated menus with glistening full-color photos of every dish, you're in the right place. But last night we trekked to a nearby town that's quainter and more historic, and ended up having the best food I've had in this area, including haddock with fresh spinach, sweet-potato cake, and red-pepper coulis and filet with bacony mashed potatoes and gorgonzola sauce.

And now, we have an apartment! Smaller than this hotel room, but our first together nonetheless. Off to Sally Ann's for plates and lamps...