Sunday, February 25, 2007

    Burgers and Books

    One reason I drag myself out of bed on Monday mornings is to read The Strong Buzz, Andrea Strong's weekly e-letter. Last week she reviewed Stand, a new burger joint off of Union Square, and Jon and I eagerly walked over for dinner on Friday -- the place was bustling with that end-of-week electricity. Stand is modern and comfortable with high ceilings, a small bar up front, and an open kitchen in the back.

    We started with the pot of pickles, which included tastebud awakening sours and half dones, plus pickled beets, baby carrots, pearl onions, and string beans. They reminded me of Rick's Picks' pickles.

    Our burgers, which Stand says it grinds daily and automatically prepares medium-rare unless a customer asks otherwise, were charred well done on the outside but (thankfully) exactly med-rare on the inside. All burgers, except the mini burger, are 7 oz. with a fat-to-lean ratio around 30/70. For me, 7 oz. is a more than perfect amount of meat, especially when those ounces are as good, juicy, and fresh as these. The buns are made on Long Island City at Pain d'Avignon, and were way above average in taste and texture -- they did a good job of absorbing the juice and condiments!

    Jon ordered the classic with cheddar and homemade ketchup, which had a deep tomato flavor and some zing. I had the mushroom burger with onion marmalade and shredded lettuce. The shrooms were juicy and sauteed jus' right. Instead of ketchup, mine came with a porcini mushroom sauce, which I completely forgot about post-order. After it arrived, I kept tasting it and wondering what kind of delicious, rich mustard/mayo concoction I was dipping my fries in, until finally I asked the server and then my palate embarrassedly recognized that it was mushroom, not mustard. The fries were cut long and not too wide, and though they were saltier than I like, had that much sought after balance of crisp on the outside/soft on the inside.

    I'm curious about the Burger Soup, which the menu describes as beef, onion, seasonal veggies, beef broth, and cheddar, and I plan to return soon for what might be the best thing about Stand: their beverages. Milkshakes come in cool flavors like Toasted Marshmallow and Apple Pie. Floats include Dandelion & Burdock Soda w/ Banana Ice Cream and Cel-Ray Soda w/ Strawberry Ice Cream. They also have homemade ginger ale, and a U-bet Chocolate Egg Cream w/ Fresh Soda. I heard the bartender say that the beautiful blue soda bottles resting on the bar are over 70 years old. There are also alcoholic shakes, and a great selection of cocktails, beers and wine. For once, Jon and I both had restraint on all of the above, though we each admitted regretting it on our walk home. There's always next time, which could be as soon as tomorrow.

    *** *** ***
    This NYTimes article about Oscar swag mentions a human taffy pull. I never!

    *** *** ***
    On a food for literary thought note, I'm deep into Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessel. It's one of those books that was written for the likes of me. It's very Quirky. She's got a mishmash Style all her own, one that is reminiscent of the Wordplay and Mindfulness in I Know Someone is Waiting for Me Somewhere by Anna Gavalda with some of the Mystery and Intrigue of The Secret History by Donna Tartt slinking across the North Carolina accented pages.

    Too, I recently signed up for a free literary website, DailyLit.com. I'm currently e-reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland divided into 37 parts.

    "There was no label this time with the words `DRINK ME,' but nevertheless she uncorked it and put it to her lips. `I know SOMETHING interesting is sure to happen,' she said to herself, `whenever I eat or drink anything; so I'll just see what this bottle does. "

    Sunday, February 11, 2007

    Relaxed. Intense. Yummy.

    My friend Liz recently scored a high profile freelance writing gig with a little bit of help from moi, and she kindly took me to dinner at Aroma Kitchen & Winebar one recent, freeze-your-high-heeled-toes-off Friday night to celebrate. I was excited that she suggested Aroma, as I often peek in when I walk to and from the gym. It’s a cozy spot, the kind where you may have to pass through a mini obstacle course to get into your chair. Once you’re in place, Aroma’s jovial yet soothing surroundings live up to its tagline, “relaxed. intense. italian.”

    Over glasses of deep Italian reds (there are 120 bottles on the wine list, with a large selection by the glass), we perused the menu and fitfully mulled our waiter’s careful, loving description of the night’s specials. Pained because we wanted to order everything from soup to cheese plate, we decided to share a small plate special and two appetizers from the menu.

    We started with the special, a trio of sliders on Sullivan Street Bakery mini-rolls, which our waiter said was an unusual menu item for Aroma. (RIP aka cafe—your hanger steak slider will be neither duplicated nor forgotten. Its taste has stayed on my palate though it’s been years since my lips last graced the toasted bialy crunch that gave way to a tomato-kissed, pickle and mayo relish and then to the exquisite ground steak below. Oh, how careless I was to take you for granted until you were no more.)

    The first slider sandwiched oozy, fragrant mozzarella, fresh pesto, and a thin slice of tomato. The second was a slightly salted smoked salmon topped with a balancing, sweet smear of mascarpone cheese. The third was a meatball. The champion of meatballs. A rich blend that tasted like pork and beef, a hint of spice, a suggestion of pepper, a dollop of marinara—homey and also refined. (I preferred this meatball to the critically lauded yet preternaturally white-on-the-inside veal ricotta meatballs of Craftbar.)

    The supplely baked calamari was stuffed with a soft, pleasing mixture, both to the palate and on the tongue, of almonds, capers, fennel, parsley and shrimp. I would have liked a hint more of lemon juice in the stuffing to bring the flavors to life, though the preserved lemon on the side was a welcome touch.

    We remarked that our next dish looked and even tasted like dessert. The warm beet salad was actually a terrine layered with gorgonzola and sugary fig jam, with a warm beet dressing on the side that was reminiscent of chocolate sauce. The duo of fried gorgonzola balls added a little texture in between bites of the sweet beet tower.

    I also thought the beet lasagna with wild boar bolognese, mozzarella, nutmeg and b├ęchamel; and the braised monkfish and Sardinian fregola paella with shrimp, lobster broth and sausage sounded great.

    For dessert part two, we traded bites of Sacher torte and crossed our fingers that we’d have a reason to celebrate at Aroma again soon.