June 2005

Your Favorite Recipe

I get lots of e-mail from people who are eager to share recipes. I am grateful for this but I sometimes wonder: “Why should I be the lucky one with all this information? Why doesn’t everyone share with everyone else?” And so I am posting this post RIGHT now for you to share your favorite recipes in the comments. Go on, enlighten each other, share and share alike. Post ones from your favorite cookbooks, no one will know. I’d post mine but first I have to think up a favorite. Can’t wait to read yours.

All That Work and It Tastes Like Vomit! (Torta di Mandorle, Limone e Ricotta)

Life’s been good lately–I’m sailing through my summer quite well, thank you–so please don’t assume that this negative post and the negative post below it are due to anything sour going on in my life–I am not, by nature, a Negative Nelly. The sad truth is that sometimes when we touch, the honesty’s too much. Oops. I mean: sometimes when we cook all our hard work doesn’t pay off. To quote the crappy Six Feet Under from the other night: “Life’s not a vending machine: if you put in virtue you don’t necessarily get happiness.” Similarly, the kitchen’s not a vending machine: if you put in hard work you won’t necessarily get deliciousness. Sometimes your cake will have the texture of vomit.

I realize that the vomit imagery is unpleasant to encounter on a food blog. My apologies. But there’s no other way to describe it. This is the Torta di Mandorle, Limone e Ricotta from The River Cafe cookbook. To translate: Almond, Lemon and Ricotta Cake. It requires lots and lots of work. First you take a bunch of blanched sliced almonds and “coarsely chop” them in the food processor. That step proves disastrous in the end product: those “coarse” bits of almond mix with the ricotta and make for a chunky lumpy crunchy texture that..well…I won’t repeat it. You grate SEVEN lemons and mix the zest with the chopped almonds and some flour:


Then you beat butter and sugar and add 6 egg yolks which you separate out. Then you whip the egg whites from those 6 eggs until they form soft peaks. THEN you mix together ricotta cheese and lemon juice which you squeeze from two of those lemons. Here’s all the stuff you need to assemble the cake batter:


You fold the egg whites into the batter and then mix in the ricotta cheese. Pour into a buttered 10-inch springform pan and bake at 300 degrees for 40 minutes or until the top turns brown. The top didn’t turn brown so I kept baking until a tester came out clean.

Look, this cake isn’t awful. It’s the texture that’s awful but the flavor’s ok. It should’ve been delicious. Without those chunky almonds I think it would’ve been like a lemony ricotta cheesecake. But sometimes we have to fail to learn. Like the time I lost a Geography Bee to the question: “What city has mile high stadium?” (I said Chicago!) Next time I’m in a Geography Bee I’ll say “Denver” and next time I make this cake (unlikely!) I’ll pulse those almonds until they’re sand. To quote Alanis Morisette: “You live, you learn.”

They Blinded Her With Science: Laboratorio del Gelato (A Poem)

When young Clotilde devoured New York

she went to a spot-o

that I hadn’t been yet

where they sell gelato.

On the Lower East Side

near Katz’s deli

Walk south on Orchard

Hear the growl in your belly.

Outside it’s humid

you feel yourself sag

“Gee, how much further?”

Aha! Here’s the flag!

Inside it’s tiny

I thought it would be big

Just a white shiny counter

With no room to jig.

“Can I help you?” said a voice

“One moment,” I requested

Clotilde had picked two winners

she wouldn’t have me bested.

“Banana,” I concluded,

“and coconut: small cup.”

I watched him scoop the scoops in

and fill that small cup up.

Outside it was raining

the patter was real soft

“Here’s to great gelato!”

I said as I held my spoon aloft.

I bit and tasted and swallowed and thought

and I tasted and swallowed some more;

Is this top one banana or coconut?

My tastebuds were at war.


I snapped a blurry picture

appropriate enough

since my taste experience

was causing me to huff:

“It’s creamy and rich but muted

these flavors are so lame!

I wanted taste explosions

Damn, this is so tame.”

In fact I couldn’t finish–

into the trash it went.

So much for great gelato

this laboratorio is spent.

Sunday is for Brunching: Sunday Brunch with Seth & Amy at 9th Street Market

One nice thing about my web site is that it brings people back into my life who fell out of orbit. Seth and Amy are high school friends who knew me before I was the glorious specimen you see above you now in a red sweater holding a pot. Amy and I e-mailed a bit last week and we decided to have Sunday brunch. I asked her to suggest a place and she suggested the 9th Street Market.

The 9th Street Market is on (shocker!) 9th Street between 1st and 2nd Aves. I arrived a little before 10 and there was already a crowd gathered outside. The door opened and the crowd went in. Then Seth and Amy arrived and we put our name on the clipboard outside. The place is really small so if you don’t get in on the first cycle, you have to wait for the first seating to rotate out.

That was fine. It went fast and Amy, Seth and I caught up. Then our name was called and we went in.

The brunch menu had a Prixe Fixe that came with coffee and orange juice or an a la carte that was really only a la carte because it didn’t come with coffee or orangew juice. I ordered from the a la carte menu a smoked salmon scramble with homefries and sourdough toast.


The eggs were great, the potatoes pretty good (they had an interesting flavor), I loved the blackberry preserves but the sourdough toast was inedible. Literally, I don’t know if they intended for it to be so hard to bite into, but each slice should come with its own dentist.

Amy picked the winner: apple pancakes that she let me try. Here she is with Seth: you can see her apple pancakes in front of her.


So if you go to 9th Street Market get the apple pancakes. Amy said: “I hope too many people don’t find out about this place.” She has a point: with the tiny space and the big wait times (it apparently gets crazy around 11, 12) I am really sacrificing our future brunch happiness by sharing this info with you. That’s how much I care. So if you go and you get there before us, put our name on the list? We’ll give you a dentist in return.

Foodplace Revisited: Back to Sapporo & R.U.B.

One thing that should make you raise an eyebrow at my food reviews is that, unlike the critic for the Times (and most reputable papers), I only visit a place once before I do a write-up. This gives you a nice instant capture of a dining establishment at a specific moment in time in a specific moment in my life but it doesn’t in any way represent a fair comprehensive examination of a restaurant’s quality. For that you have the professionals. With me, you get what you pay for. And you pay nothing!

I went to Sapporo in midtown a few months ago and liked it. I went back because I was in the theater district (this is the night I saw The Glass Menagerie) and I was craving noodles. I looked in my Sietsema guide (the time before I used the Leff guide) and remembered Sapporo. There I went and I heeded Sietsema’s advice for summer months: “Come during the summer and get the piece de resistance: hiyashi chuka, a bowl of cold noodles in a slightly sweet broth, topped with ham, chicken, egg, fish cake, green onion, shredded ginger, cucumber, and corn.” Here it be!

Isn’t that beautiful? I devoured it. It was cool and refreshing and had all these great flavors and textures: almost like a Japanese version of the chef’s salad. This gave Sapporo some serious mileage: the last time I said it paled next to Momofuku. This shakes things up a bit. Perhaps a Food War is in order?

The real place that benefited from a return was R.U.B. Last time I was there, I couldn’t believe how expensive it was for so little. Three people paid $70 for what amounted to just a few ribs each. This time I ordered the pulled pork sandwich:


I sat at the bar and this really cool female bartender suggested I get it on a bun “because it doesn’t fall apart.” I ordered a lemonade too and all in all this lunch meal cost $13. Not cheap, but not $70. And the pulled pork was really delicious: they heaped it on (you can see in the pic, there’s a lot of pulled pork on that bun.) Now if I’m craving rib-like experience I have a happy option on 23rd street.

Wow—so you see, returning to a place more than once has its benefits. My credibility as a food critic has been raised. Who wants to subsidize a return to Per Se?

How To Open A Bottle of Wine When You Don’t Have A Corkscrew

Wine is trickling its way into my foodie consciousness: after dinner with Clotilde where the Babbo waiter paired some dishes with wine, I’m really starting to understand how wine enhances the overall dining experience. I like this Hemingway quote posted today on Gothamist Food: “In Europe we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also a great giver of happiness and well being and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary.”

Friday night, I was too lazy to cook. It was hot and rainy or maybe it was cold and snowy: I don’t remember. All I remember is that I ordered a pizza again from Pizza 33. It’s a delicious pizza: crisp wood-fired dough; fresh cheese and sauce and basil. But a thought struck me as I opened the lid: “This pizza looks nice and all, but do you know what would make it better? Wine!”

I ran out the door and darted across 6th avenue to my nearest wine shop. I purchased a bottle of cheap Chianti—I wanted an Italian wine. I paid and ran back across the street, up the elevator to my apartment and through the door. Was the pizza still hot? Barely; now just warm—but warm enough.

Let’s get this bottle open. Where’s the corkscrew? Corkscrew, present yourself!

Instant recollection: a few weeks earlier, I was on the roof with friends drinking wine. We brought up wine and glasses and…the corkscrew! Now it’s gone forever, no way it’s still on the roof. And here I am with a bottle of wine: what do I do? The pizza’s getting cold!

I turned to the greatest resource available to us in the modern age. The internet! I googled: “opening wine without a corkscrew.” I came across a site that gave the following advice: put a butter knife in the cork, hammer it in and push the cork through. This seemed wildly dangerous, but I was desperate. Here are my tools:

(Ignore the cat milk: that’s Lolita’s wine of choice.)

What can I say? It worked. I made a mess–wine splashed everywhere–but the butter knife pushed the cork down (I hit it very lightly with the hammer) and then I used my knife sharpener to thrust the cork all the way in. I then used my rubber cork stopper to stopper the wine after I’d drank my fill.

The moral of the story is that no obstacle, however large and/or daunting, should prevent you from celebrating life with wine. A corkscrew, however, makes the celebration just a tad bit better.

Your Good Humor Personality

I have a memory. I am in my room in Oceanside, NY–I’m about 9 or 10 or maybe even 11. I remember the Beaches soundtrack playing on my low-grade tape player (or was it Dirty Dancing?) (and people wonder if homosexuality is genetic?); I remember my Apple IIgs sitting on my glossy beige desk; and I remember a large rectangular window that looked out on the street. West Waukena Avenue. Hey what’s that noise? It sounds like angel music; or a music box; or… it’s the ice cream truck!!

The ice cream truck is such an integral experience of childhood that if any of you didn’t have one growing up I’d find it perfectly acceptable for you to regress, dress like a toddler, and track one down in your nearest suburb. There’s no thrill like the thrill of running downstairs, yelling “mom! the ice cream truck’s here!” and darting out the door to make the most important decision of your day. And here it is:

This image is iconic. These choices haven’t changed over the course of my lifetime. I still remember my mom choosing the candy center crunch because of the chocolate in the middle. Dad, I think, liked the premium ice cream bar. Me? I always got the same thing–time and time again:


That’s the strawberry shortcake pop and it does for me what madelines did for Proust. Whisked back to those days of innocence, of summers spent at the public pool–the Oceanside Pool–where I flopped around the urine-saturated kiddie pool or risked death in the deep end of the adult pool. I remember our family forming a huddle around me so I could change my bathing suit; I remember cousins visiting and running to the snack bar in bare feet (ouch! ouch!) and them choosing Charleston Chews and me choosing my Good Humor Strawberry Shortcake pop. That perfect rectangle on a stick with a mysterious crunchy strawberry crumble on the outside: that’s what life’s all about.

Do you remember your flavor? What’s your Good Humor personality? I’m a Strawberry Shortcake man, through and through.

Food Wars

Check out the new feature on the upper right corner. I got rid of “Kitchen Queries” because that’s all it was: queries! No answers! Not very helpful. Plus it’s fun to vote on things throughout the day. And feel free to post comments on why you voted what you voted. Happy warring!

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