Food, Glorious Food!

Big ups to Restaurant Week in New York City and my happy tummy, last week was a great one! First off, the fire in my office building last Monday made the whole place smell pleasantly of crackling campfire wood. Despite my pleas to stay put so I could flirt with the FDNY (something along the lines of “But you’re so hot, how could you possibly put OUT a fire?”), we evacuated and had a team lunch at Dos Caminos, where I calmed my nerves with a watermelon margarita and a platter of chicken on fragrant cilantro rice. Dessert was some genius riff on mint chocolate chip called the Grasshopper (god help me, I can only say that in a Mr. Miyagi voice in my head) from Emack & Bolio’s.

Despite the full day (yup, that there’s a pun), I found room for dinner at David Burke Townhouse with my fellow Ambassadorette. Before we were even led to our table, a bartender dressed like a member of some old-school barbershop quartet slid a carved purple quartz vessel full of twisted and spicy cheese sticks within reaching distance and followed that up with dainty little dishes of ricotta and herb spring rolls in a warm honey sauce. Fortified with frosty cocktails made alternately of rose water and pomegranate juice, we were ready to just live at the bar when the hostess popped up behind us and announced our table was ready. For our first course, we selected the Sea Scallops Benedict, which consisted of two large, soft scallops draped in poached quail eggs and lobster foam, all resting atop a thin layer of chorizo, and the Pretzel Crusted Crabcake, which was shaped like a delicious treasure box with a big, beautiful shrimp on top as an ornament. Somehow, the pretzels were incredibly easy to cut without having to mash the crabcake, but crunchy to the last bite. Our main courses had a lot to live up to, but I’m happy to report that they did (even the next day when we had leftovers for lunch). We had Roasted and Crispy Seawater Soaked Organic Chicken (let he who doubts the power of words read that last bit and not drool) and a Pan Fried Branzino. The name says it all for the chicken and yes, oh god yes, it definitely lived up to its billing. Ah, but the branzino! It was one perfect elongated rectangle of crispy silver-gold-brown skin which broke apart easily underneath my fork into moist soft flakes of white fish. It had the texture of al dente pasta where it resisted a little as I bit in but then, suddenly, just gave in and glided piece by tender piece along my tongue as if it were swimming. I’m not quite sure what happened outside of the universe between me and my plate, but I think my friend had a silent communion with her dish as well. After all that, I would normally forget to talk about dessert. But David Burke has the kind of whimsical approach to sweets that can win even a grizzled old savory-tooth like me over. We ended the meal with a Cheesecake Lollipop tree with branches of raspberry white chocolate and ganache served with bubblegum whipped cream, a miniature ferris wheel of Drunken Donuts, which were donut holes covered in cinnamon sugar served with vials of fruit, chocolate and caramel filling which could be plunged into the donuts, and chocolate covered strawberries for good measure. We cried a little from the beauty of it all. A little from the pain of eating so much, but mostly, from the beauty of it all.

Still with me? Good. Cuz that was just Monday. Tuesday rolled around (another pun, yes, I make of myself when I eat a lot. I’m my own sorority.) with plans to meet a friend at the Clover Club, that lovely bastion of classic cocktails and spirits. We sipped single malt scotches and ryes poured over iceberg cubes in highball glasses and scoffed gently at the world until it was time to sup (yeah, old timey lingo, that’s what ‘sup!) at Buttermilk Channel. First course was a bottle of light, fragrant red which smelled like roses at our table. The waitress saw us enjoying the wine a little too much and quickly brought over a small bowl of complimentary popovers which were light and fluffy and dunked in a shallow pool of warm, sticky honey. Our entrees came out soon after, linguini coated in a creamy, nutty brown butter sauce with mushrooms and the bright pop of corn, and medium rare skirt steak sliced to show off the deep glistening pink of its meat. Dessert was more wine and a welcome stroll in the balmy summer night (or should I say waddle?).

Thursday gave the ladies of Quirky a chance to have lunch together at Lure. Taking my cue from the porthole windows and shipshape surroundings (groan!), I fed my seafood cravings by ordering a Salmon Tartare starter and Sushi Combo entree, and then ended with a summery lemon tart served on top of blueberries. Everything was light and refreshing, which was what I needed at the end of such an epic eating week. Viva la belly!!

Summer Campiness

Hey! Remember when you were young and had ice cream cakes and matching charm bracelets with your BFFs and splashed around at pool parties? I sure do. Cuz that’s what I did this past month!

A couple weeks ago, my friend Lady D threw her annual So-Awesome-You-Have-to-Trek-Out-to-Flushing BBQ where she put on the usual blowout spread of bruschetta, chips, dips, many-cheesed pasta (with some secret citrus component that she won’t fess up about), burgers, hot dogs, kielbasas, salads (scoff), and more beer and liquor than the average neighborhood bar.

It’s hard to know what to bring to a party with such generous bounty. Luckily, I passed by a Carvel and inspiration struck in the form of a nostalgic aquatic ice cream cake: Fudgie the Whale!! (I’ve  been informed that Fudgie was a regional phenomenon so I’d like to elaborate. Growing up, having a Fudgie the Whale cake at your birthday party was a Sign that You Were Cool. It was on the same level as having a roller-skating party.

Fudgie was comprised of layers of classic chocolate and vanilla ice cream and an amazing crust of dark chocolate cookie crumbles which were so crunchy that it almost felt like I was chewing on a mouthful of gravel. Sometimes I would close my eyes as I chewed to let the sound of that gravel crunch fill my head and reverberate. There was always a magical moment when the chewing paid off and the gravel softly released an earthy musky chocolate aroma into my mouth. And then I would take a bite of the ice cream layers and let it melt and wait for all the flavors merge on my tongue. I could taste some sort of alchemy take place even though I couldn’t quite express what I felt, and the fact that this revelation came in the form of a slyly winking cartoon whale may have strongly shaped the way I view the world.) Needless to say Lady D, having also grown up in Fudgie the Whale territory, was ecstatic when I showed up at her BBQ with one in hand.

That same weekend, I got together with my best friends from college to eat greasy fried foods and speak exclusively in inside jokes. It was amazing to be around people who knew me so well that they drew out parts of myself that I’d forgotten or neglected. Our conversation zigzagged from deep psychological co-analysis to making fun of each other about our (alleged) college hookups. (I’d like to point out that kissing or even heavy hand-holding defined hooking up for me. I was appalled to find out that some people equated hooking up with sex. I spent one full week early in my sophomore year trying to figure out who might have misconstrued my stories of rampant hand-holding. San gloves. I lived dangerously.) At the end of all that talking, we commemorated the day by getting Pandora bracelets, which are high falutin’ versions of those dangly jingly charm bracelets that used to decorate my junior high wrists. We spent an hour picking out charms for each other and planning ahead for the charms we’d get on our next get-together. BFFs 4eva!!

The Fourth of July capped off my month of summertime reverie with an honest-to-goodness pool party at K-dawg’s new digs in the heart of the Cobble Hill projects. (Cobble Hill is a neighborhood in Brooklyn, if you’re not familiar. It’s mostly gentrified but has this 4-block pocket of old-school projects surrounded by million dollar townhouses. And in the middle of it all, the shining chlorinated oasis of my friend’s pool.)

K’s backyard had a round pool with a wooden deck built around it, a hammock swaying mellowly in the afternoon heat haze and a small trampoline which had everyone bouncing gleefully at one point or another during the party. Even the two puppies in attendance, Ruby, a friendly pink-nosed white pit bull, and Harlee, a rambunctious Welshie took turns bouncing. It was pretty funny to see the bemused expressions on their puppy-faces! You know what wasn’t funny though? My failed attempt(s) at a Lady and the Tramp(oline) joke.

Towards the end of the day, a cannonball contest ensued which I think I won for two reasons. One, I managed to do a full-on bellyflop. But not on my belly. On my face. (Yeah.) And two, on a subsequent jump, I managed to land my left eye socket into a friend’s fist. Miraculously, I didn’t get a black eye, but my left cheek did get a bit swollen. Fortunately, a mosquito helped me out by biting me on the right cheek. So at least both cheeks match!

All in all, it has been quite a month of revisiting the highlights of my youth. And without that pesky puberty thing to deal with. Awesome!