This Sh*t's Delicious

Exploring the world through cocktails, shit hole restaurants, and UrbanAg

Category Archives: Travel

Riding Mumbai Trains, Feeling Fly Like a G6

It has been a hectic couple of days of checking out south Bombay. After being holed up in the “quiet” suburb of Mulund for the last 3 days we finally made our way down to the “city”. The plan was to check out some major tourist sites such as Gateway of India, Haji Ali, Mahalakshmi Temple, etc before going on walking tours.

But first, we had to navigate Mumbai’s intense train system to get from the ‘burbs to where the action is: South Bombay. Mumbai has a pretty extensive, efficient, cheap, if not over-crowded train system. A 50 km trip will cost you Rs. 10 or less than 20c. This is how a majority of the suburban population travels in and out of the city as this is the quickest, cheapest, if not intense way of traveling.

What I find amazing and humbling about this experience is the friendliness and helpfulness of the people. If someone sees you lost in the train system, they will actually walk you in the right direction. Passengers watch out for senior citizens and make sure they get onto the train and get off at the right stop. People will help ferry your handheld items to luggage storage racks running along the top of the trains.

Everyone’s in the same boat and they know it. But there are separate compartments for women though. Can’t trust the Indian male to not take the chance to “accidentally” feel up a woman during the bone-crushing peak hour rush.

The most hilarious thing about the trains is the whole “front of the bus” phenomenon. No matter how not crowded the train, there’s always people hanging off the front.

Here’s a video. Link to Dave’s excellent blog post on this same subject.

We have been riding the trains like pros now for the last two days. If you are ever in Bombay, riding the trains is the best way to feel the pulse of the city.

Chindian IT Tech Support

Normal priorities while travelling tend to be shelter, water, and food. Our first priority was INTERNET.

One feels so naked now without Internet or cell phones. Can’t imagine how ppl travelled before 2000s. I guess you just learned to read maps and talk to ppl. So hard! The plan is to live, work, and travel out of Bombay for the next few months, hence the focus on getting Internet setup right away. Using my parents’ apartment in Mulund makes it much easier and convenient.

So much has changed in the last 7 years since I have been. Everyone carries smart phones now. Internet cafés have all but disappeared as more upper middle class Indians get on the internet bandwagon.

 But mostly it is the same. High rises next to slums. Women picking through garbage for something to sell. The constant din and noise and ppl…It is going to take a while to get used to the constant noise.

It is a weird feeling being here. I don’t feel out of place. Yet, I am not totally comfortable. I am not overwhelmed, but yet I feel weird that I don’t feel out of place or overwhelmed. Weird.

Got lot accomplished in the first day and half. Got our internet and cell phones lined up. Getting a pre-paid phone here is an absolute pain in the ass. You have to first provide a photo of yourself.

Then you have to have a local who can vouch for you. The phone company then calls the contact to verify that the applicant is real. So if you didn’t have someone local, you would be fucked. There would be no way to get a prepaid cell service. It is the most bizarre thing I have seen. I suspect it is to keep the terrorists at bay though. Which is stupid cause it is pretty easy to find someone to vouch for you. You wouldn’t be much of a terrorist if you couldn’t accomplish something that simple.

The other first priority after landing was eating my favorite thing in the world: vada pau. If I was a millionaire baller, I would fly First Class every weekend to Mumbai just to eat a few vada pau’s and then fly back. That’s how awesome these fried, doughy goodnesses are.

This typical Bombay street food retails for Rs. 12 or < 0.50 cents. This is Bombay’s answer to venerable pizza. The basic concept is pretty simple:  Take boiled potatoes. Mash them up. Add spices. Cover in dough and deep fry. Spread tamarind chutney inside pau (bun). Garnish with fried chillies.

Bam! Done! Best drunk food ever.

Dave was a big fan. This is the perfect way to start my stay in Bombay. And it is something Dave can eat cause it is deep fried.

We also had to get Dave some Indian rupees. Here’s a local tip: most jewellery stores for some reason will exchange foreign currency, esp 100$ US bills. We got 62.5 Rs for 1 USD which is almost better than market rate! I don’t know why they offer this service or what they do with these USDs but it is fucking awesome.

> “Let’s blow this shit on hookers and blow” – Dave J. Cheung

Cruise ship food: the good, the bad, and the salty

This week, we have the pleasure of inviting our good friend and fellow semi-nerdist @baudais to blog about her not-so-recent adventures at sea. Alicia had the opportunity to spend some quality time on board a cruise ship for a friend’s wedding for about a week. These are her stories….

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I recently had the pleasure of going on a cruise in order to celebrate my partner’s best friend’s wedding (if that isn’t a mouthful, I don’t know what is). Our 7-day Carnival cruise took us through the western Caribbean, stopping in Cozumel, Belize City, Rotan, and Grand Cayman. Two days were spent at sea.

Now, you’re probably heard the jokes that they stuff you silly on cruise ships, and you should expect to gain a few pounds. These statements are true, though I vehemently denied this at first. I like to work out and eat healthy! I eat small portions! All of that went out the window the second I stepped on board our ship, the Carnival Legend. We feasted like kings every single meal, and most meals are included in the cost of your cruise (a meal at their steak house was an extra $35/head, and you had to pay for premium, Starbucks-style coffees). In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some people went on a cruise simply for the food. You can sail for less than $600/person if you share a cabin and are deal savvy—that’s $85 a day before taxes/etc. It’s a pretty good deal when you consider that it really is all you can eat.

Instead of going through every single meal I ate, I’ll discuss the hits and misses of cruise ship food.

HITS

If you go on a cruise, take advantage of the dining room as opposed to the buffet for dinner. Each night, we were served a three course meal: an appetizer, entrée, and dessert. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of options available each night. There was a standing menu which consisted of standard American comfort food: fried chicken, hamburgers, pasta, etc. What stood out to me was the nightly menu which always had an “exotic” choice. I tried frog legs and alligator, and though neither of these appetizers were exceptionally delicious, it was fun to check these items off my “to try” list.

Although the dinners are assembly line meals, the food was good quality and prepared well. The chicken was always moist, and the beef and fish well-cooked. My favourite main was a savoury, spiced pumpkin tart. Though the crust was a bit tough, the flavourful filling was excellent—well seasoned, the cinnamon and nutmeg apparent, but not overpowering. The fried chicken (my second favourite) was surprisingly tasty, though salty (which I’ll get into later). The coating was crisp, and not greasy; the chicken tender and moist. The accompanying mashed potatoes were real (as in not powdered!) and well seasoned. The gravy that came along with the potatoes was amazing; it was very savoury and I loved that it had a caramel/burnt sugar taste to it.

The glutton inside of me also appreciated the fact that food truly was available to us 24 hours a day. You’d wake up to a gigantic breakfast buffet. There were themed late night buffets to satisfy your drunken munchies—my personal favourite was Mexican night, during which I indulged in a burrito (tasty and filling, with surprisingly fresh ingredients) and nachos (a miss: oddly textured chips—I don’t think they were fried properly—made out of flour tortillas and slightly sweet neon cheese sauce. This being said, I’ve been spoiled by years of eating Saddledome nachos with their amazingly tasty neon cheese sauce).

Oh, and the chocolate buffet. The chocolate buffet. In which the entire dining hall became a receptacle for all things chocolate. There was a chocolate fountain. Multiple cakes. Chocolate profiteroles. Rice pudding. Chocolate covered orange peel. Brownies. Madeleines. And, my personal favourite, an amazingly rich and flavourful chocolate pudding. Some of the items for the chocolate fountain was a miss (jello rolled in granulated sugar, aka “jujubes” and this weird citrus rock sugar), but the chocolate buffet was pretty good in general. Of course, recognizing that it was close to being the epitome of gluttony.

Did I mention that, on top of all of this, there was a daily hamburger/hotdog bar with all of the fixings, as well as a 24/7 pizza stall? My partner decided that he just had to get himself a hotdog after our chocolate buffet indulgence. See what I mean about eating? You just can’t stop. I’m glad I brought my Jenny Craig pants with me.

MISSES

Salty, salty, salty. I felt like most of the food was salted with a heavy hand. I realise this is ironic as Canada is home to some of the highest levels of sodium in packaged foods, but I felt like the salt masked many of the other flavours in the food.

Waste. I am one of those eat local, waste not kinda yuppies, and I found it extremely hard to finish everything on my plate. The portions are gigantic, and the standard buffet plate (seen above with the hotdog) is just shy of being a serving platter. People on cruises are not shy about taking piles of food and throwing out what they don’t eat.

Local cuisine. There also aren’t many opportunities to sample local cuisine in the Caribbean unless you plan ahead. If you partake in excursions, expect to have no time to explore on your own. Pre-planning is essential, as the areas in which cruise ships dock/tender are very touristy and cater to the unadventurous. The most exotic things I saw for sale were cashew wine (a speciality to Belize that, the locals say, is the best bang for your buck because you’ll be drunk for two days), conch, plantains, and local fish.

Out of all of the food available to us on board, the buffet was the most disappointing. There is certainly variety, but don’t expect the food to be über fresh (unless you have good timing). I can’t tell you how many pre-toasted, heat lamp warmed bagels I had for breakfast, and overcooked chicken breasts atop somewhat limp salads for lunch. Opt for the dining room as much as possible—while the food is prepared in an assembly line, at least it’s prepared to order.

SUMMARY

All in all, the cruise was a very good time. I was pleasantly surprised. Being a bit of a food snob, I was apprehensive about the quality/preparation of cruise ship food. Don’t expect chef’s table, amazing, quality meals—but don’t expect fast food quality food either. You’ll get fed, and get fed well. Try to lose 10 pounds before you set sail so that you won’t feel too guilty about the unavoidable overindulgence you will experience.

Would I go on a cruise again? You bet. It certainly isn’t for everyone, but it’s good value for your money if you want a sun-soaked vacation. Think of it as a moving all-inclusive resort. Another myth I’d like to debunk is the fact that you have to be a retired couple to enjoy what a cruise ship has to offer. Even the most refined yuppies will eventually come to appreciate the garish charm that the decor offers…and marvel in the sheer amount of things to do on the ship.

Just skip the variety shows if you’re used to… erm… higher quality entertainment.

~Alicia

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Until next time, good eats!

-Kiran

 

NYC ExTRAVELganza! Part 3: Sweet Dreams

Ouch!  This article has been sitting in my “to finish” pile for months, but I’ve finally just gotten around to putting the pictures in – hopefully all of these places are still around!  This last article in the series covers the dessert/sweets places that I visited last September, as well as the restaurants that I remember most fondly.

Petit Abeille Petite Abeille on Urbanspoon – The “little bee” is a nice little shop with a surprisingly big behind, equipped with charming checkered tablecloths and floors and old-world sensibilities. If you want a little taste of Belgium, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start – Tin-Tin comics, Belgian waffles, and an extensive Belgian beer menu make it abundantly clear which country inspires this place. Turns out that there are four of them in NYC, though I went to the one close to Union Square for breakfast – the waffles were crisp and delicious (even if the strawberries were a little tart for my taste) and the coffee nice and robust. Recommend!

Quite the charming interiorNothing says Belgium like waffles!

 

Max Brenner Max Brenner on Urbanspoon – For those with a full set of sweet teeth – Chocolate by the Bald Man! It’s a pretty stylish place that’s still reasonably casual, and might be a good date place if it wasn’t chock-full of noisy tourists 😉 This place is surely diabetes in disguise – diabolically delicious! I ordered a frappe, which oddly came with a metal straw – I’m not sure if it was just a mental thing but it seemed to impart a metallic taste to the drink. The frappe was also on the edge of being too sweet, though given that it was the dulce-de-leche flavour that only makes sense.  They offer a number of sickeningly sweet indulgences, including a giant chocolate-filled syringe!

[Ohnoes, no pics!]

ChikaLicious ChikaLicious Dessert Bar on Urbanspoon – My first thought when I heard that this was a place that served a 3-course prix fixe menu for dessert only – too rich for my blood. But in reality, it’s a sweet little place where the diminutive but charmingly stoic owner/chef Chika makes you your dessert as you watch while seated at the bar. It was pretty cool to see the fresh figs get chopped up and the crème brulee torched in front of me. The “sous” chef (or whatever you might call them for a dessert bar) was an intense guy who beat the whipped cream as if it had committed crimes against humanity. The lemongrass panacotta and cantaloupe sorbet were both very nice, though I don’t remember much about the petit-fours that we had at the end.

Chika and her sidekick prepare the desserts while you watchEver seen a creme brulee like this?Why are these called petit-fours when there are only three? ;)

 

Big Gay Ice Cream Truck Big Gay Ice Cream Truck on Urbanspoon – One of my friends was adamant that I check out the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, so luckily we happened to see it parked around Union Square one afternoon (Union Square seems to be a pretty popular hangout for the food trucks).  I was REALLY hoping to get an ice cream cone covered in Trix cereal, but unfortunately they only had flavours like the Salty Pimp (soft serve impregnated with dulce de leche and coated with sea salt and chocolate dipping) and Bea Arthur (crushed wafers and dulce de leche).  I ended up going with a wasabi peas cone, as it sounded pretty interesting, but unfortunately the wasabi peas were tres bland.  Far from fabulous, I’m afraid.  Soft serve is what it is, though, so if you’re looking for your fix of ice cream with a twist it’s worth checking out.

Their flavours are loud and proud

 

Dirt Candy Dirt Candy on Urbanspoon – Kiran had been wanting to try a place that dealt in “molecular gastronomy” so we went to one of the more affordable places that offered something resembling that – a cute-as-buttons vegetarian gig in the lower east side called Dirt Candy. It’s a tiny, tiny, place with 7 tables that seat 20 people max (I think 18 more typically). The menu seemed simple enough, so we ordered one of everything – literally! – to split between the three of us. That worked out to four-and-a-half appies, four mains and four desserts – which turned out to be just about right for three strapping young lads such as ourselves. The appetizers came out super fast, which is always nice. I don’t normally care too much for cornbread-like substances, but the hush puppies that we had were MINDBLOWING – not too dense, nicely crispy and accompanied with a lightly-sweet maple butter that complemented it perfectly. The mushroom “pate” was decent, if a little subtle for my tastes – but the mushroom “calamari” on top of the celery salad that we also got was downright terrific. It still didn’t make me like celery, but the baby celery bits that were spread around the plate made me smile. The deep fried cheese curds on the salad prompted Matt to swear to find a recipe for them. A couple of the appetizers were less impressive – there was a red-pepper soup which seemed rather watery (though I only tried a couple spoonfuls) and a “BBQ pork carrot” bun which confirmed to me that sometimes meat just can’t be replaced with vegetables.

What is dirt candy, exactly? Vegetables, of course!The lighting was VERY red and VERY dark - perfect for mushrooms?NEED MORE MAPLE BUTTER FOR THESE PUPPIES

A lot of the dishes seemed to be designed in a manner where meat/seafood would normally be found, in fact – besides the “pate,” “calamari” and BBQ buns, there was a tofu dish that could easily have been fish instead, and a smoked cauliflower & waffles dish that was a clear homage to chicken & waffles. It takes some real chops to fashion up dishes that contain only vegetables and have them stand up to their meat-bearing counterparts. For the most part, I’d say they succeeded – of the mains, my only disappointment was the gnocchi with chard, garlic granola and fig jam. It smelled like garlic heaven, but unfortunately I didn’t think the taste lived up to the smell – while there were some killer flavour/texture pairings (chard + garlic, granola + jam, garlic + cheese + gnocchi) I didn’t enjoy it so much when mixed all together. Oh well, taste is a subjective thing! Desserts ran the gamut from weird to wonderful – my least favourite being a very clever but unfortunate tasting watermelon-radish sorbet, with my personal favourite being the seriously solid pea and mint “Nanaimo bar” ice cream sandwich. There was also a straightforward but well executed pudding topped with popcorn, as well as a rather interesting beet chocolate cake.

I had to use flash because it was so dark, but this was "calamari" and saladTofu, with copious amounts of shizo and cucumberCorn dish not mentioned in text - grits, deep fried egg

Whew!  Well you can tell based on the space I’ve given this piece relative to the others that I really enjoyed this restaurant!  Another thing that I enjoy immensely is the absolutely hilarious blog that Amanda Cohen, the chef/creator of Dirt Candy, maintains at http://www.dirtcandynyc.com/ (if you ever want to start a restaurant of your own, make sure you are familiar with the oil rig scam!).

Amanda Cohen is from Canada <3, so here's tributeYessir, we finished everything to the last bite!

 

Les Halles Les Halles Downtown on Urbanspoon – This turn-and-burn French restaurant was once run by Anthony Bourdain, so it seemed like a good place to check out as a traveller.  The venue was bustling when we arrived, with wait staff that seemed to be made up of people from every corner of the Earth.  Service was stellar, with a server seemingly ready to swoop in and refold your napkin anytime you stood up from your table (though I’m used to sub-par service in Calgary, so maybe this is just the norm at any restaurant of note in NYC).  Without Kiran there to induce meat-guilt with his vegetarian visage, Matt and I were free to order dishes to satisfy our inner carnivores – starting with country-style pate, and ordering – what else – NY sirloins for mains.  The pate came out immediately and was absolutely delicious – well spiced and well salted – though country-style chunkiness surprised me, as the pates that I have had in the past had all been blended to be mousse-like.  The mustard that came on the side wasn’t even necessary.  The fries that came out with the steaks were some of the best fries that I’ve ever eaten – just the right mix of fat and potato, fresh, and perfectly crispy.  And mayo with the fries?  My arteries screamed no but my tastebuds quickly overruled them.  As for the steak – incredibly smooth, juicy, and flavourful – I couldn’t ask for more in a steak.  The salad was alright, but honestly I couldn’t care less about that given the quality of the rest of the meal.  To finish it off, we ordered a crepe Suzette – because honestly, who doesn’t love flambee’d shit?  It was quite citrusy and left my mouth with a little tingly sensation, but we ordered it mainly for the show anyway.  A fitting last meal for an incredible trip!

Pate tastes better than it looks - way betterFlambee away!Nothing quite satisfies like a great steak

 

A ten day trip, with 21 places to write about – I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the smorgasborg that is New York City.  If you’re ever in NYC, hopefully you’ll have the chance to check out these places and enjoy them like I have.  I am sure I will be back again sometime in the future – so if you have any further recommendations on places to check out, be sure to let me know!  If you missed them, you can find part 1 (American food) and part 2 (Asian food) through the links!

These fake postcards are all pictures I took!

Cheers,

-Richard

NYC ExTRAVELganza! Part 2: Asian Invasion

While New York City is undoubtedly a mecca of good ol’ American food, it also has a wealth of restaurants that draw their inspiration from international sources – from Venezuela to India to Japan, and everywhere in between.  For whatever reason, we ended up eating at a lot of East Asian places, which was fine by me because almost all of it was friggin’ delicious.  If I ever find myself living in New York, I’m sure it won’t be too long before I begin to resemble this guy.   Here are some highlights:

Republic Republic on Urbanspoon – I wouldn’t have expected a place called “Republic” to be all about Southeast Asian fusion cuisine, but with the Red-Star moniker I guess it’s a reference to the myriad of “republics” that make up that region of the world. From what I remember the food was pretty solid, though I just had a sashimi salad.  They have a very generous “happy hour” – from what I remember, the only evening hours that aren’t encompassed by happy hour are 7-9pm (don’t quote me on that).

Xi’an Famous Foods Xi'an Famous Foods on Urbanspoon – Looks like a hole-in-the-wall, but has its own merchandising! There were Mandarin speakers abound, so you knew the place had the approval of some actual Chinese people – and indeed, the food was pretty damn good! The fresh, hand-cut noodles (or hand-torn, it almost seemed) were nicely springy and the broth was very tasty (even if there was barely any meat in the soup). Pretty good value for NYC from what I could see – one of the few places that we ate at that ran under $10 per person, including a (non-alcoholic) drink.

Many lambs sacrificed their lives so people could enjoy these delicious bunsWe hogged 3 out of the 6 or so seats insideMmmm, spicy noodle soup!

Korilla Korilla BBQ ( Mobile Truck) on Urbanspoon – The food truck made famous through television (and accusations of cheating), Korilla is for some reason tiger-striped instead of gorilla-themed (but hey, it stands out!). We happened upon it when having a pint at The Lot (a nice, if pricey, beer garden/food truck hangout that also featured wine on tap!) This isn’t the only Korean taco truck in the city, but it’s the only one I tried – I really like the concept, but I kind of felt the execution was off. The sauces were good, but the meat and tortillas were rather poor in my opinion. Maybe my perceptions were biased by the fact that I was still more than full from our meal at The Park just minutes earlier.

Sadly The Lot on Tap might not exist anymore, seeing as it is no longer on the High Line websiteDid these Koreans get lost in Mexico? Not quite as tasty as it looks though

Ippudo Ippudo on Urbanspoon – Apparently this ramen place in the lower east side is a pretty big deal, because the first night we went there was a 2-hour wait (we didn’t actually stick around to verify the accuracy of that estimate though). We did wait an hour the second night we went, but were able to kill the time at the bar with some very tasty (if pricey) pork buns and plum wine at the bar.

That's quite the bowl collection you got there, lady!Sake in a box!  Quite customaryNothing beats a nice firm bun stuffed with hot juicy meat

Instructions, in case you don't know how to eat noodles!Is that meant to be some sort of tree in the background?

Perhaps it is because this is the first time I tried this style of bun but I think I liked it more than the much more lauded ones at Momofuku Ssam Bar – the nice light, sweet bun with a bit of may and slightly spicy sauce combined with the super-fatty pork belly is just a great combo. The décor is modern but still very interesting, and with servers ranging from modest and polite Japanese to loud and spunky Japanese. The gyoza chicken wings were hot as Haphaestus (temperature wise) and brimming with juice (excellent!), and the ramen broth is incredible – nodogoshi is noodle nirvana! Unfortunately Matt had to leave early, but fortunately for me I got to eat the remaining half of his order of samurai ribs, which were killer. We finished up with a crepe cake, which is just like it sounds – a big stack of crepes held together with whipped cream. All in all, worth the wait!

Looks like it's straight out of JapanOMG wings stuffed like dumplings!!!They have at least one vegetarian dish, if you're into that sort of thingTonkotsu is the classic pork broth ramenHow many crepes does it take to make a cake?

Num Pang Num Pang on Urbanspoon – This sandwich place close to union square serves sandwiches along the lines of some sort of Southeast Asian country (Cambodia, it seems?) – the takeout window always seemed to have a few people hanging around it so we figured it would be worth checking out. I had a porkbelly sandwich, which was one greasy motherfucker – the “meat” was probably 80% fat, and was dripping like Jabba the Hutt. The wetnap that was provided didn’t even come close to cleaning my hands afterwards, but it was pretty delicious, with some interesting flavours emerging from the pear and Viet sub toppings that were loaded into the bun. I also had the rootin’ tootin’est root beer that I’ve ever had (ie. it had a very rooty flavour), though I don’t remember what brand it was.

Apparently, this place is just called "Sandwich" (in Cambodian)Look at that f*cking grease in the box... and I hadn't even taken a bite yet

Momofuku Ssam Bar Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon – This was one of the $$$ier places that we went, but graciously subsidized by Matt. The Momofuku name seems to be a great success story for its creator David Chang, and based on the Ssam Bar I can see why. They have the coolest (ha ha) ice cubes ever, and hey the food ain’t half bad.

86 Porgies left? (whatever those are...)Everywhere does long benches now for some reasonMomofuku's magical ice cubes! (Plus Kiran's shocker)

We started with some pork buns which surprisingly I enjoyed less than Ippudo’s (maybe because they were less fatty), but they were excellent nonetheless. There was also some bread with lard “butter” – great stuff, though basically tastes like the lard packets that you get with Nissin beef ramen. Matt had ordered us the “Bo Ssam” special – which is something like 4 lbs of the tenderest, melt-in-your-mouth pork butt that you’ll ever have. Eat it up in a fresh lettuce wrap with some absolutely exquisite kimchi (you can even mix in your own raw oyster) – fuckin’ top notch. Definite Recommend, if you got the bones.

Fall off the bone, baby!Good food, good conversationOnly the freshest pickled ingredients here!You call that a wrap? THIS is a wrap!This swan has some disturbing looking bulges coming out of it... better put it out of its misery

Spice Market Spice Market on Urbanspoon – This trendy place in the meatpacking district came as a recommendation to Matt from none other than Lynn Crawford! The lighting is pretty low so you don’t have to worry too much about how underdressed you are compared to everyone else in the restaurant, and the décor somehow manages to look distinctly “Asian” without being a direct ripoff of any particular cultural style. The place seemed pretty classy but the staff was very down-to-earth, and both servers (we had a seamless transition from one to another over the course of the meal) were really friendly and knowledgeable about the food. We started with a couple drinks at the bar while we waited for a table – I had a cherry old fashioned, which was surprisingly sweet but not bad overall.

Did we come underdressed, or was everyone else just way overdressed?Ah, makes me miss the days of the old EmpireHe who controls the Spice, controls the universe

They kick it off by giving you complimentary papad, which was pretty good and comes with a kickass sauce. We grabbed a number of seafood dishes for our meal, since seafood seemed to dominate the menu – black pepper shrimp (nice level of spiciness, depth to it that reminded me of black bean sauce, and a mild moistness in the dried pineapple that accompanied it combined for a great dish), lobster roll (sushi-roll-like in consistency, with a nice tangy sauce but not the best dish of the night), steamed snapper (beautifully moist, mushroomy and minty), and laksa (perfectly done scallop, silky smooth throughout, and plentiful amounts of sweet succulent seafood – nice soup (if a bit light) and beautiful noodles – this dish was absolutely divine!). Something that we ordered came with free white rice (always a plus in my books!), but we also ordered a ginger fried rice that had a nice scallion-rich flavour – and the egg on it was done perfectly medium, which is my metric for a good line cook. We also ordered some eye-wateringly hot wings, that revoked memories of an Indian-Schezuan dish that I once had in Bombay – impressively, there were still some extra tangy flavours that shined through the heat. Kiran had to order a dish of vegetables with the wing sauce (which the restaurant graciously whipped up as a custom order!) just to see what we were raving about! Yeah so this review ended up way longer than I expected – but what can be said, this place was straight up amazing and justified a minor essay. Highly recommend!

This wasn't quite the lobster roll that I was looking forI gotta figure out how to make laksa, 'cause I don't know of where to get it in YYCCustom order of spicy wing sauce veggies, comin' right up!Sometimes a simple fish dish is all you needThese wings were so red-hot that I had to dial back the white balance to compensate!

 

And that’s a wrap!  Next time we’ll be finishing things off with part 3: Sweet Dreams!

-Richard

NYC ExTRAVELganza! Part 1: America, F*ck Yeah!

New year, New York!  Actually, this trip was from last September, but as I am a procrastinator extraordinaire, I just now got around to compiling all my notes into an article – however it turned out to be so much content that I decided to break it down into a three-part series.  Kiran and I went to visit my friend Matt in NYC, and naturally food was a big part of the trip – luckily for us, Matt had lived there for several months already and had a number of stellar recommendations for places to try.

Writing a full review about each of the places that I ate at would take an eternity, so I’ll try to keep things in bite-sized pieces!  This first article covers all the classic American food joints that I had the joy of sampling – burgers, hot dogs, pizza, pastrami – all the greasy goodness that you could hope for, and more!

The Smith Smith on Urbanspoon – My first dinner in NYC was at a place in the east village called The Smith – classic American food in a trendy setting. It seemed pretty busy for 9:30PM (though I would soon learn that this is the norm in NYC) but we were still able to grab a seat reasonably quickly. The short ribs were the fattest that I’d ever seen and were absolutely delicious – though unfortunately I only got a taste because Matt had ordered that (I had the “sticky ribs” – St. Louis style – which were pretty good but not mindblowing). The grits here are like eating pure butter with a bit of cornmeal thrown in (a bit rich for my taste), but the biscuit was really quite good (and I don’t even like biscuits normally). The waiter had no idea how to describe the Rare Vos beer that I ordered though – at least he could have told me that it was from Belgium!

[Sorry no pics! As if this page wasn’t long enough already…]

Luke’s Lobster Luke's Lobster on Urbanspoon – There’s not many times that I would be willing to put down 16 hard-earned bones for a sandwich the size of a hot dog, but the lobster roll from Luke’s convinced me to do it – twice! Even though they’re expensive as fuck, they are goddamn delicious – they pretty much fit an entire lobster’s worth of meat (though there’s no tail meat – so multiple lobsters worth of claws) into the nicely toasted bun. This place also introduced me to the wonders of pairing pickles with crab claws, as well as the sweet sweet taste of sarsaparilla (one of many Maine root sodas that they offer). Their Lower East Side location has a punk rock/maritime thing going for it, though they also have a food truck kicking around NYC that I saw but didn’t have adequate stomach space to try. Highly Recommend! (if you aren’t a dirt-poor student, a vegetarian, allergic to shellfish, or for some godforsaken reason someone who dislikes lobster)

Somethin' stronger? Sarsparilla!LOBSTER MAGNET

Park Park on Urbanspoon – Just off the highline in the fashionable Chelsea district, this spacious place has a classy lounge atmosphere from eras gone by (except filled with hipsters). The Old Fashioned that I got at the bar wasn’t the greatest nor the cheapest, but helped kill the time while we waited for an actual seat (it seemed to be pretty understaffed, given that it seemed like 1/5 of the tables were empty yet it still took us 20 minutes to get a table). I greatly appreciated the fact that their free bread was banana bread, but wasn’t a huge fan of the degassed water that they had as the table water. I ordered some brisket and eggs, which wasn’t too bad and reminded me of Chinese-style anise-heavy braised brisket. The smoked salmon on bagels was really solid as well – perfect proportion of toppings (capers, arugula, cream cheese, onions) and the bagel itself was nicely toasted. I had a bite of Matt’s burger and was instantly converted to being a proponent of medium-rare burgers.

Their burger is solid thoughPark lox and capers - sexy!Looks simple, tastes simple (brisket)

Papaya King Papaya King on Urbanspoon – Apparently papaya joints are a big thing in NYC, with joints like Grey’s Papaya featuring in several shows. Papaya King claims to have started it all, and Kent said it was a must visit – so visit I did! Can’t say I’m the biggest fan – the papaya juice was pretty good, except for the tasteless, pasty dregs at the bottom, and the hot dogs were among the worst that I’ve ever had. I honestly think that I might have preferred the free cook-your-own hotdogs that you can get at paintball over these. The onions were in some kind of bizarre red sauce and the buns were “toasted” to the point of dryness. I quite liked the various motivational signs, nutritional information and propaganda that they had inside though.

The ORIGINAL Papaya King!I don't know why New Yorkers seem to love these thingsYou can get juices other than papaya too, but why take a chance?

Shake Shack Shake Shack (Madison Square Park) on Urbanspoon – Can you get more American than burgers, fries and milkshakes? Shake Shack was one of the places that I received recommendations for from multiple people, and for good reason! We went to the original one in Madison Square Park, and while the 55+ person lineup looked a little concerning it moved at a pretty good pace (took about 30 minutes from entering the line to receiving our food). Worth it? HELLS YES. The meat is absolutely amazing – done a tender, juicy medium – though the buns are only alright. The ripple-cut fries were pretty solid too, with just the right crispiness – and though the shakes are rather pricey the creamsicle one is rather delicious. I’m not sure if it tasted so good because we had to wait so long for it, but if so maybe this is party of their strategy!  Highly Recommend!

Mmmm, mmmm, medium :)Nice day for a stroll in the park... WHAT'S THAT, SHAKE SHACK?!?!Those big deep-fried things are portabello mushrooms stuffed with cheese!

Katz’s Deli Katz's Deli on Urbanspoon – Another one of those famous places where lineups are de rigueur – they got lots of neon signs and a strange “one per person only!” ticket ordering system for all your kitschy needs. When you look at their menu, you might think “$20 for a sandwich and a soda? You gotta be kiddin’ me!” But you should probably plan to split it or come with an athlete’s appetite, because the pastrami sandwich here comes loaded with what seems like a solid pound of succulent meat. Smooth, moist, thick-cut and perfectly salted – THIS is pastrami! Plus they give you an entire cucumber AND and entire pickle (quartered, of course) – so all in all it even turns out to be pretty decent value!

This must rival Schwartz's Montreal Smoked meat sandwiches for meat:bread ratioThis was at ~3pm - is it ever NOT busy?

Crif Dogs Crif Dogs on Urbanspoon – Brooklyn’s answer to Tubby Dog? Ok, I guess they’ve been open for longer than Tubby Dog, but sorry dudes this is one where I think YYC does it better. Not to say Tubby Dog is some sort of gourmet joint, but when it comes to the toppings Crif Dogs looks somewhat tame in comparison. We went to the Crif Dogs in Williamsburg (not sure if they’re all the same), which was all hip-hop and hot dogs (well plus the dozens of Star Wars figurines for which I must give major kudos) – seemed cool enough, but unfortunately the hot dogs are NYC style (read: tiny sausages). I ordered the BLT dog, which wasn’t bad but wasn’t anything special – basically, it was exactly what it sounds like, a hot dog with bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo. The late 80’s/early 90’s videos that they were showing on their TV were kind of cute though.

Even bacon, lettuce and tomatoes cannot make a happy dog out of NYC frankfurtersWho doesn't love arcade tables? Crif is stylin' at least

Grimaldi’s Pizzeria Grimaldi's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon – Unlike Kiran, I enjoy doing super-touristy things, so I dragged Matt along to check out this famous symbol of NY-style pizza. There was a pretty healthy-looking lineup when we arrived, but fortunately we cruised through in around 35 minutes – not too bad since I’ve heard people will often wait over an hour to get a seat. They really play up their Italian background here, with a seriously Sicilian-looking doorman and the motto “I’m gonna make you a pizza you can’t refuse.” As for the pizza – yep, it’s pretty damn good. Piping hot, delectable cheese and great crust – the only downside is the somewhat steep price. We ordered 2 toppings for each half of the pizza, though they charge you the same price for each topping whether it’s for the whole pizza or half, so the toppings cost almost as much as the base price of the pizza itself. Fortunately, they are reasonably generous with the toppings so perhaps they give you the same amount of toppings either way and just concentrate it on half of the pizza. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to compare this to other coal-fired institutions such as Lombardi’s or Patsy’s, but regardless I’ll give Grimaldi’s a thumbs up (as long as you don’t mind tourists).

Gracious doorman or mobster bouncer?  You decide!Kiran saw this line and said "fuck it"Pizza worth it's wait in minutes

 

Whew!  That’s it for this episode – tune in next week for part 2: Asian Invasion!

-Richard