Sunday, April 29, 2007

    One Slice

    April 30th marks one year since I launched Slices of Me. In the name of research, I've eaten especially well since then. Here's a roundup of the foods that immediately come to mind when I think of the best things I've tasted this year.

    In NYC
    Brussel Sprouts at Momofuku Ssam Bar.
    Mama's Food Shop and Whole Foods taught me to clean my plate of brussel sprouts last year, Momofuku Ssam Bar took my adoration to another stratosphere this year. Never have I fork-fought over a dish of vegetables like I did during dinner there a few months ago. These sprouts were lightly fried and tossed with fish sauce, garlic, chilies, and mint. The chile heat was mellowed by the mint, and each bite had a varying degree of flavor, depending on which part of the bowl I ate from. Much as I loved the sprouts, I haven't been back to Ssam Bar yet -- I'm scared they won't live up to my high expectations on second taste!

    Frozen Yogurt at Pinkberry.
    Lately I like coconut, Oreos, and raspberries atop my Pinkberry, which I raved about here. The ‘berry’s frozen yogurt is so tangy and refreshing that it actually doesn’t need anything on top, but the fruit is always fresh, and the rainbow of toppings so seductive, that I never resist. When (if?) the Spring St. location opens, I know I’ll use the nice weather as an excuse to get off the subway one stop early so that I can "stumble" upon it a few times a week.

    Aperitivo at Aroma Kitchen and Wine Bar.
    Since my
    first lovely meal at Aroma, I’ve gone back for lunch and Aperitivo, and have plans to meet a friend there again this week. For a filling and fun happy hour, I highly recommend the Aperitivo, served at the bar from 4 to 7 p.m.: $15 gets you a flight of three wines and unlimited antipasti, served buffet style. The antipasti is seasonal and on the night I was there included a variety of meats, olives, a lemony tuna salad, goat cheese and cranberry stuffed endive, Caesar salad, and polenta cakes topped with Bolognese. This tiny restaurant has begun to feel like my neighborhood joint -- I walk by it many times a week, en route to the gym or errands, and often pause to peek through the windows at the diners' plates, smiling to myself if I see something familiar. If Aroma ever adds breakfast to their menu, I’ll eagerly try that too.

    Outside NYC
    Seared Spiced Skirt Steak Salad at Swoon Kitchenbar.
    To celebrate our sixth anniversary a few months back, Jon and I whisked each other away for a long weekend in Hudson, New York. Appropriately, we ate at
    Swoon, which is owned and operated by two renowned former New York City chefs. After being disappointed that they were out of the housemade beef ragu pappardelle special, I ordered a skirt steak salad.
    I’ve enjoyed many variations on the steak salad over the years, but this one literally caused me to swoon. The salad bowl was swimming with farmer's market arugula, mounds of goat cheese, and perfectly grilled and peppered skirt steak, topped with bright green pesto vinaigrette. The best part of the earthy, bright mix was the beets, which were sweet, luscious and cut into the thickest of hunks -- no demure rounds of red here. I often think of the salad when I read menus full of complicated, fussy dishes. There's definitely room for both schools of cooking on my palate, but remembering that something so simple can be so astounding gives me pause...more on this topic in a future post.

    Muffuletta from Central Grocery.
    Jon now travels frequently to New Orleans to work on a project that's assisting with the rebuilding of the Lower 9th Ward. Lucky for me, this means that he brings home a Muffuletta sandwich from the city's famed Central Grocery when he can get there before they’ve sold out for the day. What makes this sandwich so special that my dearest risks greasing up his belongings to bring it to me? Let’s deconstruct: Take a sizeable round of authentic Italian bread, slice, and layer with Provolone, Genoa salami, Cappicola ham, and the best part, their "Famous Italian Olive Salad." They sell it to go, so I'll list the ingredients as published on the jar that's in the fridge: Olives, Celery, Cauliflower, Carrots, Sweet Peppers, Onions, Capers, Parsley, Pepperoncini, Olive Oil, Vinegar, Garlic, and Spices. Need I say more?

    Sultan's Delight and Warm Buttered Hummus w/ Basturma at Oleana
    here for my full review of this incredible Cambridge, Mass. restaurant.

    In the next year, I hope to eat at some of the following:
    Midtown West/East and beyond: Kyotofu; Boi;
    New Leaf Cafe; Sushi of Gari; Sfoglia; The Modern's bar; Picholine; Kefi
    Chelsea/Flatiron/Murray Hill: Gramercy Tavern (the prettiest restaurant in town?); Tia Pol; Boqueria; Crema; A Voce; Wild Edibles
    West Village:
    The Little Owl; Fatty Crab; 5 Ninth; Pearl Oyster Bar (it's finally time to try Mary's rival's lobster roll); the Blue Ribbons; August; Barbuto; 'ino (still haven't had the truffled egg toast); Turks & Frogs; Lupa; Babbo; The Waverly Inn (how to swing it?)
    My neck of the woods: WD-50; Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar; Freeman's; Death and Co.; Pegu Club; Pravda; Paputzul; Bondi Road; The Tasting Room; Hearth; Momofuku proper; The E.U.
    Other boroughs and the like:
    Blue Hill at Stone Barns; Franny's; The Grocery; The Queen's Hideway; The Good Fork; 360

    Thanks for reading, and I hope you'll continue to comment on, share, and enjoy my suggestions.

    Wednesday, April 25, 2007

    Virginia Tech Op-Ed

    Below is an essay I submitted to The New York Times' Op-Ed page following the Virgina Tech tragedy. The following morning, Cho Seung-Hui’s family made their first public statement.

    Although only a few days have passed since the massacre at Virginia Tech, the amount of coverage the tragedy has rightfully already received is equivalent to the amount that most incidents would get in a year, if that. And in these few days, with all that coverage (some tasteful, some ruthless), I’ve been surprised not to see an interview, or at least read a statement, from Cho Seung-Hui’s parents.

    After watching and reading countless interviews with the families of students who survived, or did not survive, I wonder how Cho’s mother and father felt on the afternoon of April 16, after it was announced that their son was the shooter. I also wonder how they are dealing with the immediate consequences of his actions. What are they thinking and feeling as this, a practically unimaginable parents’ nightmare, continues to unfold? What daily rituals have paused? Are they able to get out of bed, tie their shoes, or swallow their food? Have they seen the footage of their son’s last, telling video flash large on their family room TV screen or splayed across the front page of the newspaper that I imagine delivered to their home each morning? If so, do they see the face of their son, or are his previously familiar features rendered unrecognizable with each horrifying revelation about his short life? What was their relationship with him like? And, the most difficult yet unavoidable question of all: to what extent did they know about their son’s mental state?

    As questions of Virginia Tech’s responsibility regarding Cho’s mental health arise, the general public is being made aware that the way schools handle students with mental health problems is dictated by federal law, and that without a student’s consent, parents can’t be notified even if their child has severe mental problems. After such a horrendous event, we naturally sift through the evidence looking for answers, hoping to place or diffuse blame. Thus far, the evidence says that although he was not unknown, Cho was a stranger to his peers. Was he a stranger to his parents too?

    Surely the life Cho’s parents knew as immigrants from Seoul who worked at a dry-cleaning business in Centreville, Virginia changed forever last Monday. Unfortunately, their lives will be eternally intertwined with their son’s horrific actions. I imagine that right now they are reeling in shock, and that they may be worried for their own safety. I hope that their lives are not jeopardized, and that they, along with all the other victims, can one day find peace. In the meantime, I hope they soon will publicly help shed some light on the mysterious student who has caused such heartbreak all over the world.

    Saturday, April 21, 2007

    Working Up An Appetite

    Coney Island scares me, and also makes me hungry
    for Nathan's hotdogs, french fries, fried clams
    (not so good, but it's a tradition nonetheless),
    cotton candy, icies, and ice cream.

    Wednesday, April 11, 2007

    Comfort Food

    In the weeks before I made the final decision to put my sweet Schuyler to sleep, I wasn’t eating enough, according to Jon. My stomach was a mess, my anxiety was building, and I was in a constant battle with my cat to get her to eat.

    It was no surprise really that my dining habits mirrored hers. During the five years we spent together, Sky and I watched each other’s every move in our small apartment. If I was on the couch she was in my lap, or if my laptop was there instead, she was curled up next to me just close enough that we could feel each other’s warmth. If I was asleep, she was asleep on top of me, my hand under her chin. Her litter box was near the toilet, so we often faced each other eye to eye, or eye to cat bottom, as we did our business.

    Schuyler’s last health crisis was an undiagnosed stomach problem that caused her to lose a lot of weight, but her main health issue stemmed from severe allergies that eventually forced her to wear an e-collar all the time. As her allergies increased, I learned to expertly administer shots, pills, sprays, ointments and baths, and put her on a hypoallergenic diet prescribed by her veterinary dermatologist. At her last vet visit, her doctor told me I needed to switch her to store-bought food again to help her gain back the weight.

    A month later, I let the vet know my heartwrenching decision. I always believed I'd have to make a choice of quality over quantity for Sky, but I never would've guessed the time to choose would come so quickly. In our last few days together, my appetite came back in overdrive and Sky and I ate like queens. She gobbled down bowls of salmon and lobster flavored cat food, drank fresh water every hour, and finally got her own can of Jon’s tuna, which she always begged for when he made tuna melts.

    My first indulgence was a bottle of red, a carton of Chubby Hubby, and (after I realized that all of my comfort cravings involved leavened foods and accepted that this was not going to be a year for keeping Passover) a delivery of Crawfish Mara from Mara’s Homemade. Jon and I ate there on Valentine’s Day, and I’d since been dreaming about another steaming bowl of the creamy, slightly spicy pasta dish. The crawfish, which Mara’s only purchases from the Gulf Coast, had a musty, of-the-earth, seasaltiness to them that reminded me of my coastal roots. And who isn’t comforted by cream sauce? Two glasses of wine, ¾ a carton, and many mouthfuls of pasta later, I wasn’t satisfied, though on any other night I would have been perfectly sated.

    Over the next few days, nothing, not even copious handfuls of Cadbury Mini Eggs stolen from Jon’s secret stash, a Shake Shack burger and their Nutter Butter custard, sushi from the LES Whole Foods’ revolving sushi bar, pizza with clams from Three of Cups (where Jon and I had one our most memorable first dates), more red wine and a few Dark & Stormies, Arepas and a Papelon Con Limon from Caracas, Bangers and Mash from Puck Fair, chocolate cake, more Eggs, or (natch) Comfort Diner’s dreamy Blueberry Lemon Ricotta pancakes, could satisfy my hunger.

    I woke early and hungry on Schuyler’s last day and heated some instant grits. She finished the last few bites of her tuna just before it was time to go. Many tears, sweet nothings, kisses and goodbyes later, Jon and I left the vet’s office stunned. And I was hungry again. We walked around the corner to The City Bakery, a beacon of comfort and familiarity. Over a cup of their rich, thick hot chocolate and a bowl of vanilla yogurt with crystals of ginger, topped with sour cherries and lychees, a sense of relief coupled with raw grief began to set in.

    I miss her terribly, but I know I made the right decision. And from now on, whenever Jon makes a tuna melt, I'll have a little bite for Schuyler.