Thursday, May 29, 2008

Oh fine: you ask, I deliver. Miracle Fruit here we go.

The spread
I got the email in the afternoon the day before. "Impromptu Sunset Rooftop Miracle Fruit Tasting Party: Friday," it said. "I have only 40 fruits and they are uber-perishable, so only the first 40 or so people that reply to this will get to come."

Ya'll have probably all read the article by now, which does a pretty thorough job explaining the event, so I won't get into the specifics. Let's just cut to where DL and I made it to the LIC rooftop about an hour after the party had gotten underway, and handed over our ten bucks to "Supreme" for one each of the bright red berries. I admit, there was a moment of doubt as I looked at it, sitting so innocently in my palm. I mean, don't they warn you that the red things are poisonous?

Oh well. I popped it in my mouth anyway. It tasted like a tart grape, and was mostly pit; we had to scrape off the firmly clinging pulp with our teeth. After about a minute, we spat out the seed and skin and then got down to business: experiencing the fruit. Here's a run-down of the stuff we tried, and the effects:

Lemons, limes, grapefruit, kiwis, strawberries: Awesomely sweet.
Brooklyn Brown Ale: Sweet beer!
Mango: Just okay, but I think the mango might have been underripe to begin with, so now instead of hard and sour it was merely palatable.
Pumpernickel bread: Flat tasting but otherwise unchanged.
Watermelon pickle: Since I had made them too sour to begin with, they actually became closer to what I had been going for.
Tangerines: Like Tang, or Sunkist orange soda...too sweet.
Gherkins: Weirdly unchanged.
Some kind of semi-firm cow's milk cheese, with rind: Not delicious. I don't know why, it tasted just sort of...wrong.
Goat cheese: mellowed out and tasty, but not that different (was the berry wearing off?)
Marinated goat cheese: Frikkin' delicious, but I'm not sure if that was from the berry or because it was just darn good.
Oatmeal stout: About the same, but I think the fruit was wearing off.
Kumquat: I think this would have been amazing, but I tried it at the point where the berry had definitely lost its magic, so basically my entire face puckered up in shock instead.

Yup, game over. Nonetheless we hung out for a little while longer, watching other people's reactions and enjoying being out on the roof.
Berry Man / NYT photographers
Before DL and I left we spent some time chatting with Curtis Mozie, miracle fruit grower (in highly appropriate red, on the left). At one point, in the middle of listing the different things we could try under influence of the berry, he stated that if either of us had a boyfriend, we would be eating the fruit "every day." And then he laughed joyously and didn't explain any further. Now, I have my own theories on what he meant by that, but perhaps you dear readers can share your ideas? Surely he didn't mean....


We later suprised our friend LT at his birthday dinner with one of the berries, and though it didn't kick in immediately after he spat out the seed, after about a minute more it worked for him too. He sampled black vinegar (sweet); vodka, as recommended by Curtis (no different); and the lemons and limes we snagged for him ("like candy" he declared). Unfortunately, by then there was only the one berry, and the rest of us could only watch on in envy as his taste buds experienced the miracles of miraculin. I'd say this fruit is definitely one to experience with a bunch of other people. All the more reason to throw another party, hey?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

No fame, but the lemons were sweet

Miracle berry
Today my friend DL is in the New York Times! Sadly, though they took a bunch of photos of both of us, I was not. Aside from the top half of my face showing for about a second in the background of the video.

There will be a post about this party forthcoming, just probably not soon. I mean, I just finally got around to writing about Mother's Day fer godsake.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Watermelon pickle fail

I intended this pickle, made from the pale flesh of watermelon rind, to taste something like the white daikon pickles served in Korean restaurants (most notably as an accompaniment to fried chicken). But I poured the vinegar with a generous hand and they ended up way too sour; even adding more sugar didn't help. Strangely, the one thing they ended up pairing well with were hot dogs, left over from the pigs-in-blankets I made for the house party. Next time, next time.

Mother's Day entertaining; I eat nieh ban at last

There was little time to rest after MH and I returned to our apartment from the diner. The place was a wreck, and we only had a few hours to clean, cook, and make ourselves presentable for our parents, who were coming over for dinner.

My parents and MH's parents have long been friends, and when MH and I were younger they saw each other frequently because we would always be at each other's houses. But as we've grown less dependent on our folks and also stopped living at home, they've had fewer chances to spend time with each other…and with me headed to Colorado, there would be even less. So when MH decided to move in for the summer, we pegged Mother's Day as a good opportunity to get them together.

Thankfully, my brother had agreed to handle the bulk of the meal, so aside from wiping away the sticky remains of spilled alcohol from every surface, I only had to prep some vegetables and slice some potatoes.
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Big bro had prepared several dishes in his own apartment beforehand, so once he arrived things were pretty easy. Above is a roasted black bean, red onion, and sweet potato salad that we put on top of greens my parents brought over from their garden, and a pile of cumin-roasted cauliflower. He had also made a puree from the roasted cauliflower which ended up being almost like a pâté, so we served that with wedges of toasted bread.
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For the main entree, we laid down a bed of thinly sliced potatoes and fresh tomatoes, roasted this for an hour until the potatoes were done and the tomatoes were a bit caramelized, topped it with tilapia that had been marinating in a lemony, garlicky, herb-filled chermoula sauce, and then popped the whole thing back into the oven for another twelve minutes or so.
When the fish was done, we served the dish over couscous that we had prepared with tomatoes and flat-leaf parsley. Altogether it was a light and fresh-tasting main, and the bright chermoula sauce went well with practically everything.
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On top of all this, Monica's folks had brought over a pile of nieh ban, chewy, sticky rice-dough dumplings filled with a savory dried turnip and pork filling. The above is the kind I thought I was getting when I bought this one, and ended up all disappointed by the completely different filling inside. When MH heard me lamenting that I couldn't find nieh ban anywhere, she let me in on a bit of titillating information: her parents know a woman. A nieh ban dealer, if you will.

I don't know the details, but apparently this woman makes batches of these inside her Flushing apartment, and all MH's parents had to do was pick up the phone and tell her how many they wanted. Imagine! Practically unlimited access to nieh ban! And they are utterly delicious. I only had one, as they are pretty heavy, but all throughout the meal I was eyeing the rest of them, trying to decide if I had room for another.

This joint Mother's Day was lovely, I think, for everyone. And after sending off our mothers with the beautiful flower bouquets that our friend EK had prepared for us, MH and I finally found time to rest, an intense weekend of entertaining behind us.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Elation and celebration: Cake, champagne, and Bel-Aire Diner

The day before Mother's Day, in honor of a number of events—including a graduation, a new job, new roommates, and in order to bid farewell to an old roommate—MH and I hosted a small party in our apartment. It will probably be our only shindig, since MH is studying for the bar exam these days and me, well, I'm moving out of this city at the end of summer. I decided last month to accept the opportunity to pursue an MFA degree in Fiction…in Colorado.

Let me lay out how crazy this is for me. I'll be going from this:
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IMG_3443.JPG Queens-bound N train, Queensboro Plaza station

To this:
mountain lakes
It's nuts, yo! But I'm psyched. A change of pace and environment should be good for me—I've lived in New York City all my life, after all. I don't know what's going to become of this blog once I relocate, but hopefully it'll remain (or turn into) something interesting. But I make no promises; I haven't the faintest idea of what awaits me out there. Um, any Coloradoan readers lurking? I'd love to hear from you.
This is the bottle of champagne that AT left on my desk once I told her the news. Hooray.
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Anyway, back to the party. Do you like our very dorkily decorated cake, above? (Yes, I am the dork.) That huge, moist, chocolate cake is from Costco, and it's pretty good, though also extremely sweet. We also had a bunch of other food for our guests: pigs in a blanket, which seemed to disappear in about five seconds flat every time I brought out more; palitaw rolled in sesame and coconut; roasted garlic to spread on homemade wheat bread; and roasted potatoes with a sweet chili-mayonnaise dip. There was also hummus, pita chips, crudite, pineapple, assorted pickles, two types of goat cheese, and brie.
Here's the full spread. It looks all neat, because I took this photo before most people had arrived.

With the clanking river of wine, beer, and alcohol that entered our door that night, it was inevitable that this party was destined to rock until the break of dawn. And aside from two visits from the cops, all went pretty much as expected, including the requisite few friends crashing out on our couch. The next day, after finally managing to rouse ourselves, we all hit up Bel-Aire Diner for some sustenance.
An omelette, toast, and home fries: the breakfast of hangovers. Nothing special, but it provided fuel. A good thing too, since once breakfast was over MH and I had to clean up the apartment in preparation for our parents coming over for dinner that night (more on that later).
Since I'm moving soon, I've started attempting to clear out my possessions. At the party I managed to give away a bunch of books, but this pile still remains. Books, anyone? If you're in the NYC area, get in touch.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Unphotogenic Woodside tamale

On my way to dinner at Sripraphai, I spotted this tamale vendor. Having just gotten tamales from the woman at 36th Ave a week or so earlier, I wanted to see how this one compared.
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The next day the mole and pork tamale I got was fine, but it was less moist and flavorful than the ones the 36th Ave woman sells. This one also taught me something else: mole tamales are terribly unphotogenic. You don't even want to see the pictures I deleted.

Best Thai at Sripraphai; gruesome garlic grapes

AG had aged another year, and I met up with him, MC, and MH at the acclaimed Sripraphai in Woodside to have dinner in his honor. I first discovered this place back when it was just a cluster of tables in a small store lined with dried goods and snacks, and back then I found it to be one of the most eye-opening Thai restaurants in the city. Over the years I've been happy to see it stay one of the best around, and even with its massive expansion on the heels of a stellar New York Times write-up several years ago, the food has remained consistently superb.
We started with the crispy catfish salad, a wild mix of herbs, red onion, green papaya, fiery green chilis, roasted cashews, and the aforementioned crispy catfish in a sweet, sour, spicy vinagrette. I don't know how they turn the catfish flesh into the lacy, crunchy puffs of fried matter above, but no matter: the salad was great, the kind of dish that really wakes up the palate.
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Tom yum soup and chicken green curry, both really good, though the soup was a bit on the salty side. The creamy, spicy green curry is a dish that in Chinese we would describe as being "xia fan," meaning it has the characteristic of being both appetite-awakening and delicious with rice.

The coconut rice we ordered to go with our meal is one of my favorite items at Sripraphai. I have never gotten this kind of rice anywhere else that offers the same rich intensity of flavor. Though I imagine it's meant to be eaten with curries or their other dishes, I've found that the fluffy, slightly sweetened grains are balanced with just enough salt to warrant eating the entire bowl by itself, with no need for any other accompaniment. In the past I have made trips to Sripraphai just to get some coconut rice for takeout.
Shrimp paste fried rice, which as you can see, is meant to be mixed yourself. This is also one of my favorites, as the textural and flavor combination of cucumber, red onion, sweetened pork, crunchy dried shrimp, snappy green beans, shreds of egg, soft rice, sour lime juice, and pungent shrimp paste is both unexpected and perfectly balanced.
Sadly, the pad see-ew was terrible, mostly because it was much too sweet, with a singular, cloying flavor. MC ate continually from this plate because the noodles, to her, "tasted like dessert." I don't remember it being this bad in the past, but I guess even for a restaurant that has mostly maintained its high quality of offerings, some things do fall off.

After Sripraphai the four of us retired back at my apartment, where MC discovered something in the fridge that made us all gag:
Grapes? you're probably wondering. Well, they may look innocuous, but these, after sitting in the refrigerator for a week or two next to a container of chopped raw garlic, had taken on a strong, pungent taste. And I must say: unlike the harmonious interplay of flavors at Sripraphai, grapes and garlic is one combination that is just downright disgusting.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

King of Falafel & Shwarma: "yahhh baby who want it"

I've been living in the same apartment in Astoria since 2005, and for the past three years, I've walked by these guys and inhaled the rich, smoky fragrance of grilling meat but never stopped to get food from them.

It takes someone new to shake things up, I guess. When MH met me at the train station one afternoon after work, she declared that she was hungry and we decided to make a stop.
The King of Falafel & Shwarma has their menu tied to the railing behind their cart, with amusing come-ons such as "So are you really hungry today so let the big man feed you with his special all in one plate over Salad and rice if u want yahhh baby who want it" and "The best chicken and rice in town try it..... did you say yummmmmmey yes you did." They're really friendly, too; as we waited on line I listened to them joke with one customer after another. There seemed to be a lot of regulars.
MH and I got the beef kefta platter on rice pilaf and the chicken platter on yellow rice, topping both with hot sauce and white sauce. Each came with lots of random accoutrements, including iceberg lettuce, tomato wedges, spiced raw onions, a piece of falafel, and a bright pink root vegetable that neither of us had encountered before (something like a hard, raw turnip; anyone know what this was? Uh, it wasn't tasty).
Overall both were decent, but unfortunately I have to disagree with their declaration that they have the best chicken and rice platter in town. Both of their meats were on the dry side, and while I liked the rice pilaf, the yellow rice was standard (read: boring). The falafel they threw in there was a nice touch though.

My heart still belongs to Sammy's Halal in Jackson Heights, which is the only street meat I can envision myself wanting to eat regularly. Winner of the 2006 Vendy Awards, Sammy's juicy, flavorful chicken, perfectly spiced lamb chunks, fragrant basmati rice, cool and creamy white sauce, and smoky hot red sauce has never failed to make me happy. Though I haven't tried the chicken and rice on 53rd Street, I'm not convinced that it would be any better; I've heard the rice is super greasy there, which is a turn-off. I am simply not into "living the lifestyle," I suppose.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

In which I ♥ NY (More Than Ever): Third Floor, and Sunnyside taco-ing

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Third Floor is a quintessential Korean bar, complete with an uninspired alcohol menu, expensive anju, and lots of young (sometimes very young) Koreans and Korean-Americans. When I dropped in after my dinner at Momofuku Ko to meet up with DT, a band from California was jamming in the back, four kids full of manic energy just straight gyrating and jumping as they poured out music. I can't say I became a fan of their sound, but watching them live was fun.
Later, after the band had packed up and the bar cleared out a bit, DT's friends arrived and he ordered the above fried chicken. On Tuesdays, Third Floor has a deal where from 5 to 8 pm, you can get unlimited beer, unlimited tonkatsu, and unlimited fried chicken for $14. From my experience, the tonkatsu is terrible—bland and tough—but the chicken is good. It's coated with a cornstarch batter, making the crust lighter than your typical flour-based version, and is probably the most greaseless fried chicken I've ever had. The only thing I'd caution is that the pieces seem to be from odd parts of the chicken—these are not neat little wings or breasts or drumsticks, but fried chunks of whatever else is left. Oh, not necks or beaks or um, anuses; just pieces where you have to work your way around some little bones or cartilage. If you don't mind that, the chicken is pretty tasty.

We loitered at Third Floor for several hours, but eventually decided to call it a night. DT and his friend were parked one stop away from my apartment, and they promised they would drop me off if I took the train to their car with them. Once we were sitting inside, though, DT had other ideas. "You know, there's this great taco truck in Sunnyside," he said. "Let's check it out."

And so we did.
After several false moves, which included bypassing our destination and then making a stop at the wrong truck, we found the one DT had in mind at 46th Street and Greenpoint; the woman at the window was slimmer than he remembered, but otherwise the same. I was still digesting my dinner but after our little hunt I couldn't pass up a chance to sample her wares.

I went with the tongue taco just for shits and giggles. DT's friend had ordered the carne asada taco, and when both were handed to us on one plate, he grew nervous.

"Wait, wait, how do you know which one is tongue and which is beef?"

"Oh, that's easy," I replied. I pointed to the one closer to me. "Mine has taste buds."
True to DT's word, the taco was one of the best I'd ever had (though I don't have a lot to compare with—I rarely order them). The tortillas were soft and super fresh; the tender, marinated tongue was rich and savory; and mouth-searing pickled jalapeños and the creamy green sauce I added later really elevated the whole shebang. If I had had more room in my stomach, I probably would have immediately gone for another one.
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Instead, I got an al pastor torta to bring home (I knew it wouldn't be as good the next day, but I figured a day-old torta from a truck of awesomeness was better than no torta). When I ate it the following afternoon, I thought it was good but that there could have been more filling. It was cheaper though (four bucks; it was six at the other truck) so maybe that's as it should be.

It had been one of those nights that really makes me cherish New York City, for all of the different ways to experience food here. That day I had gone from an amazing, high-end meal at Ko to a truck dispensing tacos off Queens Boulevard, and both had been delicious and eye-opening in their own way. A great meal can be found here at any price point and at any hour, and I get giddy whenever I consider the depth and diversity of the choices available.

I woke up the next morning thinking about how much I love NYC. And wondering how the hell I'm supposed to leave....

Currying chicken (not favors)

Now that I live with MH, we take trips to Costco. I like buying their rotisserie chickens—for someone too lazy to roast their own they're a great deal, a mere five bucks for each hefty, flavorful, juicy bird. I have a whole process when I get one back to the apartment: I discard the skin; detach and set aside the thighs, drumsticks, and breast meat; strip any remaining meat off the bones; and then simmer the bones for stock. Out of one chicken I make several different meals, and practically no part is wasted.

The meat I strip off the bones I usually press into panini or throw the pieces on top of pasta or greens. Other times, I make a curried salad.

Curried Chicken and Apple Salad
by Soopling

Meat from one Costco-sized chicken, after breast, wings, drumsticks, and thighs have been removed, about 2.5 cups
Two medium-sized firm, tart apples, peeled and cubed, about 2 cups
1/2 cup chopped scallions
4-5 good dollops of mayonnaise/Miracle Whip/yolk-and-oil-emulsification of your choosing
1 tablespoon curry powder (more or less)

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, and you're ready to go! Good over mixed greens, or stuffed inside pita bread or rolls for a sandwich. You can also eat the salad straight from the bowl with a fork while standing over the kitchen counter, which is what I do when I'm too hungry to be civilized.