Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Neither worshipping nor throwing stones at the ancient mecca of Jerusalem

Okay, ancient’s stretching it, the place is like 20-something. And mecca’s stretching it, its longevity has everything to do with its puking distance from sloshed DU coeds. And, for that matter, from me. In short, Jersualem’s** only as good as it is close & I am lazy. And since that’s usually, it’s pretty good.

Which isn’t to say that it’s all relative. In absolute terms, what Jerusalem actually is is inconsistent. On the one hand, you’d think they’d have it down to a sumac-&-sesame-spiked science by now. On the other, just because it’s family run—which I’m assuming it is, though no cursory Googling confirms it—doesn’t mean every teenage cousin & the friends he hires give a shit about the just-so syrup drizzle on the knafeh.

Take the hummus.

Jhummus

The texture’s always dreamy, thick & smooth, but at its best it’s got that tang only enough, i.e., a lotta lotta, lemon juice can offer. Otherwise, as was the case with the take-out order above, it’s merely chickpea-&-tahini creamy, without much oomph.

That said, the tahini sauce per se has that slightly bitter kick I really dig, especially for countering the hit of oily juices squirting from the veggie-stuffed grape leaves (which are solid in their simple way; personally, a little ground lamb or some chopped nuts & dried fruit make for my favorite versions—if it’s not obvious I’m all about the bold flavor & texture contrasts by now, I don’t know what it’s obvious I’m all about—but something done right’s something done right any way you chomp it).

Jgrapeleaves

It’s also good for getting the thick crust on the fried kibbeh to kick back, loosen up a little, & show its cumin-scented soft side, all moist ground beef & cracked wheat. (The online menu says something about the inclusion of beef tips—without exactly knowing what it is I’m begging to differ about, I beg to.)

Jkibbeh

It had a harder time getting through to this particular order of falafel,

Jfalafel

which can be dandy but was way too dry & tough this time.

This time, actually—an all-app affair—the dandiest thing was the tabbouleh.

Jtabbouleh

You’d think by now every gun-totin’, money-grubbin’ infidel in the wild West would know that tabbouleh is a parsley salad with bulgur, not a bulgur salad with parsley. But since not everyone seems to—for the record, it is. The proportions here, as well as those of the onions, tomatoes & simple dressing of olive oil & lemon, were just right, making for a refresher course in refreshing courses—a little bitter, a little tart, a little crunchy, a little juicy, etc.

Ultimately my biggest beef was with the pita—room temp, straight from the package. Straight in the package, in fact—they gave us a bag & a half, or something like 10 store-bought pitas for 5 apps. That’s generous, I guess, in a cheap way, but I’d rather have had the opportunity to at least pretend it had left the premises warm (which it occasionally is if you eat in), never mind fluffy & hot from some sort of clay oven.

Whatever. Next time I’m feeling lazy—about an hour from now—I’ll undoubtedly make the 3-minute pilgrimmage once again. By car, of course.

**Unless you love you the rotting silver tones of some incessant ululation, I really urge you to turn the volume down before clicking through to this site.

Jerusalem on Urbanspoon

Oh, this is the best haggis in a can ever: the latest from Urban Pantry

Whether it’s better than pizza in a cup’s debatable, but the can o’ haggis ($8)

UPhaggis1

I snapped up today at Urban Pantry—& by the way, please support this rare little gem on Antique Row in any way you can; Denver’s not exactly glutted with tip-top gourmet shops—is surely the best of its kind, not that I have anything to compare it to. After all, it’s

UPhaggis2, namely

UPhaggis3, which,

all mixed together, look like

UPhaggis4

& taste like, oh, like they look like they’d taste. To borrow a phrase from the Director (not to be confused with the Dictator), shit went awry when I took a bite & promptly recalled I’m still in the early stages of liver appreciation, such that hardcore preparations involving heart & oats (not to be confused with

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are probably bound to impede the progress I’ve made with pâtés & such.

Nevertheless, haggis buffs should be giddy. Granted, since Boulder’s Scotch Corner Pub (to which I’ve not been, myself, though a recent Post review suggests it may have improved since CulinaryColorado’s Claire Walter visited a couple of months ago) serves not only haggis but haggis freakin’ nachos (hey, how about haggis risotto, since the latter’s on the menu too? That’d be sweet), there are gobs of giddiness to go around.

The Coupon Clippings: Oh, Little India, just wait til you grow big & strong!

Actually, it’s the size of Denver, not the subcontinent, that warrants consideration here—at least in light of the fact that, by default, this enduring metro mini-chain constitutes the biggest fish in our quiet little Indian-restaurant pond. From the standpoint of quality, however, it hardly rises like a beautiful breaching dolphin from the vast & murky stateside sea of batch-cooked curries.

In other words (to keep those metaphors flowing), the banks of this little mile-high fishing hole need broadening. And maybe they’ll get it; now that the far more sophisticated India’s Pearl is circling, smelling blood, maybe joints like Little India will gradually sink (or get swallowed) or swim. But judging by the meal we recently had delivered from the S. Downing branch (using a coupon for 10% off), at present it’s just treading.

Mind you, in so doing it produces a solid example of Indian cuisine as most Americans understand & want it—Punjabi comfort food on a spectrum ranging from moderately authentic to mostly pseudo. Take our pals’ chicken tikka masala, whose origins, while uncertain, are most likely British.

LIchickenmasala

Basically what we’re talking here is chicken in tomato cream sauce. Minus the standard Indian spicing, it could be Italian pollo con sugo di pomodoro alla crema, or French poulet sauce aurore, or 100 other dishes from around the world. For that matter, it could be lamb masala (for which said apparently masalamaniac pals also opted).

LIlambmasala

Because under a foot of sauce, even when we’re talking lamb, we might as well be talking chicken, for all the impact the meat has on flavor.

Ditto the Director’s lamb vindaloo, which, sadly, doesn’t really come tilted at a 45-degree angle.

LIlambvindaloo

But it does come oversauced—or, rather, undermeated. It isn’t a question of ethnic authenticity so much as kitchen generosity; next to this,

P13

for instance, it looks less like lamb vindaloo than just, you know, vindaloo. Tastewise, meanwhile, it was more like vindal, hold the ooh. I mean, it was hot, but not so hot I couldn’t eat it, which is pretty much the defining characteristic of a proper vindaloo as I understand it: something I don’t have the guts in any sense to go through with.

As for my lamb saag,

LIlambsaag

its mildly cumin-smoky creaminess was lovely enough, but again, I simply prefer more lamb & spinach in my lamb & spinach, as opposed to more yogurt (cf.

Saag ).

Finally, the mixed grill turned out to be a mixed bag: the chicken too tough, the fish too dry, the shrimp—while surprising juicy next to the fish—too few, numbering 2. The more abundant seekh kebab, however, was also moist & spiced right.

LImixedgrill

In sum, Little India strikes me as a euphemism for Stunted India. Unless management grows the balls to expand the kitchen’s horizons—&, since they’re doing just fine ball-less, I doubt they will at my lone behest—I’ll stick with India’s Pearl, mature beyond its years (months, rather) in its willingness to offer something (pages of somethings, in fact) different.

Little India on Urbanspoon

The Coupon Clippings: Gee, I hate to be the one to quell The Rebellion, but…

When this new South Broadway pizzeria spread the word that it was leading a fast food revolution, I all but grabbed my musket & set out that instant to join the troops behind their barrier of extra-large pies made with organic ingredients from scratch & piled high. Now that I’ve tried a slice, though, it occurs to me that any eatery that claims it’s “revolting” really is asking for trouble.

Oh, far be it from me to crack down on the people’s uprising; on the contrary, as I’ve said, we out here in the Platt Park area could use a little upending of the status quo. And I’m not saying the pizza actually turned my stomach—just that it ain’t about to break any chains (corporate on the one hand or oppression-forged on the other) or even make Pasquini shake in his glossy black boots.

Take this 3-cheese (mozz, parm, feta) thick-cruster, which I ordered with buffalo, sundried tomato & garlic oil instead of marinara.

Rebellionpizza2

You can tell by looking that what I got instead was fresh tomato; what you can’t tell by looking is that I couldn’t tell by tasting if there was the least drop of garlic oil on there or not. (For a girl who didn’t live down the block from

Reginas_1

the original Pizzeria Regina

in Boston’s North End so long ago that she can’t still see the rivulets of garlic oil running through the crevices of mozz, that’s a bit of a heart-slash-deal breaker.) Meanwhile, even partially melted, the feta was dry; and as for the crust, “big” is not the same as “thick,” nor is “soft” the same as “chewy.” Lacking all finesse, it was pretty much a puff of stale white air.

The thin crust was a little better, but only because it was less noticeable. Then again, even what was noticeable wasn’t really noticeable—not only was the cheese virtually flavorless but the sauce was flat-out bland. Apparently, its blend of herbs & spices is so secret it doesn’t even know it’s there (shhh!).

Rebellionpizza3

OK, look—backing their antiestablishment, up-with-children-&-other-living-things manifesto 100% as I do, & unable to even fathom the sort of yeehaw gumption it must require to open any business, much less a restaurant, right now, I feel like a schmo giving these guys guff. Then again, precisely because they’re talking the galvanizing talk, they’ve got to walk the walk. I’ll give ’em another try in a couple of months, when perhaps they’ll have gotten the hang of putting the “coup” in “coupon.”

Turophiles Like It Stinky: Discovering Cheeses with Urban Pantry’s Alex Failmezger

Friend Mo objects to the word turophile for its potential confusion with coprophiliac, but I’d rather be mistaken for someone with a shit fetish—if that would even necessarily constitute a mistake—than go with cheesehead & be mistaken for, say,

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her.

But either way, I am by no uncertain measure a cheese freak—mold, curd, paste, rind, hint of ammonia, whiff of feet, it’s all the highest expression of human achievement. When they say the wheel was man’s greatest invention, they mean the kind made of cheese.

Naturally, Alex Failmezger of Urban Pantry, the superb gourmet shop at South Broadway & Arizona that’s finally getting some of the recognition if not the foot traffic it deserves, agrees. & since she’s got the expertise to back up her belief that the world would be a cooler place if we all ate more cheese, I asked her for tips on broadening our curdled horizons. Except for the text in italics, the following’s in her words:

If you like aged parmesan, then you’ll like Vella Bear dry jack.


Dryjack

Cocoa-rubbed, raw cow’s milk cheese from California, $15.99

Background: During WWI a wholesaler in California salt-stored his jack cheese because of declining cheese sales. Months later, when Italy entered the war & importing stopped, this cheese wholesaler realized he had created a new cheese, dry jack, that made an excellent substitute for parm. Vella’s the only producer of dry jack left in the US.

Tasting note: It’s the texture in particular that’s akin to parmesan; the flavor, as Alex pointed out to me, is actually somewhat reminiscent of cheddar.

Cooking/serving suggestions: You can use dry jack much as you would a table parm. For the best flavor, leave it out of the refrigerator for an hour before serving to bring it up to room temperature. It will pair well & hold its own with charcuterie, olives & other salty snacks. Shave leftover bits & rinds into pasta.

If you like provolone, then you’ll like FenceLine Trumpeter Meadow.


Trumpetermeadow

Aged cow’s milk cheese from Wisconsin, $18.99/lb.

Background: Not the rubbery provolone of your childhood, Trumpeter Meadow is all grown up. FenceLine is one of the few US cheesemakers to produce pasta filata, or stretched curd, cheeses. Hand stretching lends a firm, smooth texture to the paste (the interior of a cheese). Aging creates an incredible crust, which, while beautiful—it looks like you should put it in your fireplace—is inedible, bitter & gritty.

Tasting notes: Mild and a bit salty.

Cooking/serving suggestions: Aside from reminding your guests to cut away the crust (though you can eat right up to the edge), put it on a cheese plate with crackers & dried fruits or a savory fruit spread such as quince or fig.

If you like muenster, then you’ll like crucolo.*


*American muenster & Alsatian münster are whole different balls of wax, FYI.

Crucolo

Cow’s milk cheese from Trentino–Alto Adige, $21.99/lb.

Background: Crucolo hails from Trentino–Alto Adige, a northern region of Italy, near the Alps.

Tasting notes: It has the mouthfeel of meunster, a good chewy cheese. But the flavor has more bite & tang, like a parm. (Although, wonderfully, the tang stands an exclamation point at the end of a buttery, buttery phrase. Alex made me a fan of this stuff in an instant.)

Cooking/serving suggestions: One of the nice things about this cheese is its versatility; slice it, cube it, leave it in a huge hunk on the plate. (It’s awfully sexy that way, after all.) It melts well too! So add it to pizzas & toasted sandwiches.

If you like brie, then you MAY like taleggio.


Taleggio1

Grotto-aged, washed rind cow’s milk cheese from Lombardy, $22.99/lb.

Background: From Lombardy, a central-northern region of Italy. Alex tells me the circular stamps on the top are exclusive to real taleggio.

Tasting notes: Taleggio has a soft creamy paste like brie, but with more of a punch. It ranges in flavor from tart & salty when it is young to nutty & meaty as it ages.

Cooking/serving suggestions: Serve it with alone with hard fruit,* crusty bread & a big Italian red, or on a cheese plate as the soft & creamy or full-flavored cheese (depending on whether you’re basing your selection on texture or taste). It melts beautifully, so use it on a toasted sandwich or top creamy polenta with it (check out the new Anson Mills polenta** at the store)!

*E.g. apples, grapes, plums; the term refers to fruits with a bit more durability than, say, fragile, quick-to-spoil raspberries.

**Urban Pantry is, as far as Alex knows, the only store to carry this acclaimed East Coast product locally.

If you like swiss, then you’ll like gruyère.


FWIW, swiss is 1 of my least favorite cheeses, & I still love gruyère.

Gruyere2

Cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland, $19.99

Background: Emmental (what we in the US call swiss), gruyère & comté are all pretty similar cheeses. Made from alpine milk, it comes in large wheels & is considered one of the great cheeses of the world.

Tasting notes: Nice & chewy, salty-sweet, beefy flavor that’s more intense than emmental or comté.

Cooking/serving suggestions: Gruyère is a MUST for fondue. But if you don’t like your cheese hot and stringy, then (you are very silly &) pair it with hard fruits such as pear & apple as well as salty charcuterie.

If you like extra strong cheese like epoisses, then you’ll like Stinking Bishop.


Stinkycheese1

Washed rind cow’s milk cheese from Gloucestershire, $32.99/lb.***

Background: Though its aroma has been compared to old socks, its moniker has nothing to do with its smell; it’s named after a pear varietal found in its native England.

Tasting notes: If you love the stink as I do, nothing but the stink will do. I’ve only had 1 cheese (a limburger) that was too much for even me to handle. That said, its smell is worse than its bite. The majority of the aroma comes from the rind; the paste itself tends to be relatively mild, slightly tangy.

Cooking/serving suggestions: Only serve this cheese if you know your guests will enjoy it, you know no one else will be around, or you live alone. Beyond that, since it is washed with perry (a pear brandy), pears are a natural choice; their sweetness always pairs well with gooey, stinky cheeses in any case. Dustin at Divino (the nifty wine shop handily located adjacent to Urban Pantry, which I’ve touched upon here, here & elsewhere) suggests Belle de Brillet if you want the full Gloucestershire experience. Above all, EAT IT RIGHT AWAY!

If you ALMOST like epoisses, then you’ll like langres.

Langres2

Raw cow’s milk cheese from Champagne, $TBA (a new arrival)

Background: Langres is made in the same region of France as epoisses; it’s a less pungent cousin to the king of the stinkers.

Tasting notes: When fully ripe, it should have an orange rind, a fairly strong barnyard odor, a creamy texture on the edges & a chalky one in the center.

Cooking/serving suggestions: Because of its intensity, it can overpower other foods, so just enjoy it with some dried fruit at the end of your meal as you finish your bottle of wine.

General storage/serving tips: All cheeses should be tightly wrapped in a protective covering. There is much professional debate about whether plastic, tinfoil, or paper is best. I prefer plastic because you get the tightest wrap, which lets in the least amount of air. For small amounts of cheese, this is especially crucial because just a little air will dry out the cheese. For large amounts of cheese, I still use plastic, but I take the cheeses out every so often to give them a breath of fresh air.

About an hour before serving, put together your cheese plate. Let the cheeses come to room temperature on the plate. If you are worried about the cheese drying out, cover the plate loosely with plastic or a glass cheese bell.

***Lest that price tag hurt to look at, rest assured Alex feels your pain: “I’m trying to bring down the price points of the cheeses without compromising the quality. I’d rather not carry something than carry something that’s crap.” Coprophilia notwithstanding, I applaud her stance.

Dinner & a Movie 6: generic Thai takeout & The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T

The Thai joint we ordered takeout from the other night lacks so thoroughly in character that it’s almost anti-fascinating: the only way it could ever possibly distinguish itself is by making an honest mockery of its own mediocrity, say by changing its moniker to Generic Thai Takeout Joint, which is what its former and current names, Wild Basil & Thai Green Chile respectively, translate as anyway—as, surely, will its future name, Sweet Hot Ginger Pepper Brasserie & Curry Hut or some such.

It’s a damn shame, because I could use me some fine drunken noodles from time to time, never mind the hard-to-find-in-the-heartland likes of haw moak, a curried fish (or chicken) mousse steamed in banana leaf I used to order back in Brookline at Khao Sarn:

2Steamed Curried Fish

Instead we were stuck with Thai eggplant without a hint of mint or basil or a trace of funky fish sauce but way more than its share of sugar. (Don’t let the green leaf  in the bottom left corner fool you, that’s probably just pastillage. In fact, the whole thing, in all its bland sweetness, could very well have been decorative confectionery.)

TGCeggplant

The pork with garlic sauce was initially more redolent with basil (as opposed, inexplicably, to garlic)—but ultimately no less coarse & sticky.

TGCpork

Ditto the Singapore rice noodles, although nice fat shrimp & goodly chunks of chicken bespoke a generosity that went a short way toward compensating for the dumbed-down sensibility,

TGCnoodles

as did a complimentary if weird order of wontons that smacked of nothing if not recycled sopaipillas, with the honey drained out & cream cheese poured in.

TGCwontons

I confess I feel a touch guilty harshing on one of my stretch of South Broadway’s few ethnic eateries insofar as it appears, between the name change & the consistent lack of traffic foot or otherwise, to be struggling; I can’t help but picture some graying mom & pop alone behind the counter, chins propped on elbows, no longer focusing on the American dream as they dreamed it as youths by the palm-fringed Andaman seaside but staring silently out the window across the street onto the shambles of the construction site where the Gates factory used to stand.

Then again, if they’d just cook like Thais instead of like Thais cooking like Americans, they might find their little nothing-to-lose risk paying off big as business picked up.

Then again again, what do I know, especially about my fellow Americans’ tastes? I drink pickle juice, which, per none other than Dr. Seuss—secret Jekyll to McCarthy’s Hyde as the mind behind the para-Technicolor, loop-the-loop descent into fascist paranoia that we happened to be taking vicariously over dinner, the cult ’50s flick The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T*—is but the Lethean liquor of commie homos bent on world destruction in the form of musical education as they prance about trilling, “Dress me up in silk & spinach!”

5000fingers

Oh, Dr. Terwilliker the main piano-teaching commie homo villain,

Shadow

if only you were real, & we could dine à deux on haw moak with pickle juice, seduced by the strains of Chopsticks as pounded out by 500 nubile boys-next-door-turned-pitch-perfect-slaves. Now that’s my American dream.

*Available at Netflix.

Well, hell, the farmer really is in the dell: A tour of Hazel Dell Mushrooms, Fort Collins (+ notes on Panzano)

I 1st had the pleasure of Jim Hammond’s company last spring, during a mushroom dinner & discussion hosted by the Lab at Belmar as part of its fascinating Taste Test series (to be resumed this spring, I hear; do check it out from all angles). Mind you, it wasn’t 1 on 1 or anything; Hammond was a guest lecturer, on hand to provide a totally edutaining overview of his work as the founder of Hazel Dell Mushrooms in Fort Collins. Ever since, I’ve been cognizant of the frequency with which his fungi are referenced on local menus; just the other evening, in fact, they cropped up no less than thrice during an all-out gutbuster in which I participated at Panzano (more on this soon):

Pcrepe

crespelle ai funghi—a mushroom-filled crepe soaking up its undersauce of fontina & truffle oil, here half-eaten yet still wonderfully springy & bursting with its own juices

Psteak

grilled, sliced skirt steak beneath a veritable bale of fried-potato hay, flanked by mashed-potato scoops topped with sliced portobellos

Pchicken

perhaps the blue-ribbon recipe of the eve, due polli—chicken scaloppine & grilled chicken sausage over a mound of suitably soft-enough-to-spoon polenta with mushrooms & tomatoes

I believe the mushrooms in both the crepe & the latter dish were mixed***—although, as I can now confirm firsthand following a tour of Hazel Dell, which hosted an open house yesterday, Hammond & his crew only cultivate a few varieties. & boy, do they do it carefully (not to mention alone, at least in the case of certain species otherwise not commercially harvested in Colorado).

Located just off I-25 (exit 262), the facilities are modest sizewise, but virtually every inch is given over to the growth of buttons & portobellos,

Harvestroom2

tree oysters & king oysters,

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shiitakes,

Harvestroom13

caulifloweresque lion’s manes

Harvestroom8

& a species Hazel Dell has only just begun to experiment with called cinnamon caps:

Harvestroom9

The process is extraordinarily intricate: in spawn bags filled with sawdust mixed with rice bran & gypsum, the spores are “cooked” in a sterilizer at 350 degrees for 4 hours; then they’re incubated in insulation-lined, heated incubation sheds for 3–13 weeks—all that white stuff is mushroom that hasn’t fruited yet;

Incubator

then they’re stored in “harvest rooms” kind of like the archives in Welles’s adapation of Kafka’s The Trial, only not nightmarish,

Global_3410580

equipped with spindisk humidifers (hence the rather lovely blotchiness of the below image),

Harvestroom4

Harvestroom14

where the bags they’re in are opened, which allows them to fruit within 2–5 days (as the first several photos show).

We bought a 1/2-lb. of the lion’s manes, fine knobbed & furry specimens indeed,

HDlionsmane

& I sauteed them tonight in olive oil & a splash of balsamic with fresh favas, asparagus & scallops—which they tasted remarkably like: like scallops magically sprouted from sawdust.

Dinner

***’Tis confirmed: oysters, royal king trumpets & cremini.

Dinner & a Movie 5: Nerdcore Rising & India’s Pearl takeout

If you missed it last night, & if you miss it tonight due to the lateness of the hour at which this post will be published, & if your taste in music has always run the knowingly goofy gamut of hyperarticulate misfits from, say, Camper van Beethoven & They Might Be GiantsfIREHOSE to Mates of State & The Decemberists & Flight of the Conchords, like mine has, then you simply mustn’t miss the final screenings of Nerdcore Rising at the Starz FilmCenter tomorrow, Sunday 11/9.

The cinematic equivalent of a fluffernutter—freaky, irresistible, nowhere-but-American—this doc follows MC Frontalot, pioneer of a hip hop subgenre known as nerdcore, on tour with a repertoire of fledgling cult classics like “Crime Spree”—

MC Frontalot: the arch criminal for some reason not

sought by authorities, though I been running wild for days.

They’s surely going to track me down,

I’m the number-1 menace for miles around,

with the littering, the loitering, the mattress tags,

all the pirated Mp3s I grabs

—& “Indier Than Thou”:

I’m so indie that my shirt don’t fit.

You wonder out loud, “Yo, Frontalot, why you come so ill-equipped?”…

I look confused, like I just got out of bed.

My rhyme style reflects this.

Use my overdeveloped sense of irony to deflect dis-

missiles, exploding all around me.

Unpromoted, don’t know how you found me,

soundly situated in obscurityland,

famous in inverse proportion to how cool I am…

You get the idea. They’re Star Wars–worshipping, RPG-mastering, lonely white egghead rappers. The kind who eat Indian takeout every night facing their laptops in pajama bottoms & tees that read “I’m outdoorsy in that I like to get drunk on patios.” Takeout a lot like ours the other night from India’s Pearl.

Granting that basing an assessment of a restaurant on food that has been sitting in plastic in the front seat for awhile is somewhat like assessing a potential love interest when he or she has a ripping hangover & a neck rash, my 2nd experience with this place was satisfactory indeed, only slightly less so than the 1st.

Granting, too, that looking back at the photos I can now only make a half-educated guess as to which dish was which,

IPchicken?

chicken tikka masala?

IPpaneer?

paneer makhani?

IPvindaloo

lamb vindaloo, I’m pretty sure

I can assure they were all rich & tasty; while I’ve delved into the vindaloo previously, I’ll add that the paneer balanced well its slightly salty cheese cubes with its slightly sweet (indeed sweetened, traditionally with honey I believe) tomato sauce, & that the tikka masala wasn’t rote, what with generous chunks of chicken & the gentlest kick.

The vegetarian biryani, meanwhile, was the guilty greasy pleasure that any dish whose name apparently derives from the Persian word for “fried” should be—& more than just scattered with onions, peppers, peas, nuts & raisins, contrary to the blurry image.

IPbiryani

Finally, though the shrimp-&-potato tikki were a bit worse for the lukewarm wear by the time I got hold of them, they had too much integrity to morph into flavorless lumps before my teeth. It’s as though they were leftovers to start with. & that’s no bad thing.

IPpatties

Product-testing a go-go: Lutenica, East Europe Market

As I descend further & further into the madness for malidjano I’ve mentioned here & here, all its evil twins are beginning to swirl around me too, in terrifying numbers.

Really, the sheer variety of condiments from Eastern Europe (& in this case the East Europe Market, just off S. Broadway on E. Louisiana) featuring eggplant, bell peppers, or some combination thereof, along with slightly divergent herb & spice blends here, garlic there, the occasional walnut & so on is startling, from avjar to pinjur & beyond to lutenica. Like avjar, lutenica is heaviest on red bell peppers, but it also contains chilies, tomatoes & carrots. Since the former sometimes strikes me as a little stridently 1-note, I’m fonder of the latter, which has more depth as well as slight heat.

Lutenica1

Lutenica2

I put it on all kinds of vegetables, including spaghetti squash, which makes me think it could make for an interesting alternative to your basic tomato sauce for pasta. Or a deviled egg stuffing, mashed together with the yolks. Or, hell, a scalp treatment. In the world in my head dip is omnipurpose.

Dining in, dreaming out: Pasquini’s, Go Fish, Buenos Aires Grill, El Taco de Mexico, Los Carboncitos, Domo

As the final deadline of the massive freelance work project I’ve mentioned nears, leaving the house is not an option. Neither is cooking. (Hell, neither is showering, much to the dismay of the Director but to my own secret funky delight.)

So we’ve been ordering in a lot. I didn’t even bother taking pictures of either the chef’s salad or the calzone we recently got from Pasquini’s, knowing at a glance that neither would amount to much except from a calorie-counting standpoint. The menu describes a calzone as being “like a pizza folded over.” No “like” about it. This one spanned the width of the pizza box it came in. Actually, given the toughness of the dough & the blandness of the ingredients—sauce, sausage, & cheese all barely registering as such—”like a pizza box folded over” would be more to the point.

That said, Pasquini’s delivers wine by the bottle—cheaply, & I mean cheaply (most are $12-$14). Antiquated as my old hometown of Boston’s liquor laws are, I’ve never heard of such a thing. Oh, West, how wild you are. Oh, little not-so-now-that’s-Italian pizza franchise, how awesome you are in all your mediocrity.

Speaking of mediocrity, I’m fully aware Go Fish fits the definition. The Director and I dined there a couple of times shortly after it opened and couldn’t fathom returning, what with Sushi Den around the corner & Sushi Sasa around, period. Nor have we. But we have ordered take-out a few times in the past few weeks, & I can’t bring myself to knock it. A, the folks behind the bar have been nothing but kind to the Director, plying him with complimentary shots of ginger sake while he waited. B, they offer a few riceless rolls; since rice is one of those things that tends to launch me on a roll—a taste triggers a craving that isn’t fulfilled until I’ve eaten a whole pot’s worth, straight therefrom, with salt & butter—I try to avoid it when under the sort of stress & duress I’m under now, lacking the strength to resist its ricey wiles.

GoFishsushi2

Wrapped in cucumber, the filling is sort of like spicy tuna, only mild, mixed with salmon & poked with avocado. It’s basically a chunky fish cream. Cucumber-encircled chunky fish cream. I’ll take it.

The temptation to rely on the laziness of strangers & skimp on take-out portions is 1 the majority of restaurateurs seem to yield to; not so Go Fish. An appetizer of grilled jumbo calamari rings reminds me of Madonna’s arms circa 1983.

GoFishsquid

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That could be because it has the same basic texture as a stack of those old rubber bangles. But the squid flavor’s all there—that flavor I love, the slipperiness of pink turning white—with a drizzle rather than a drenching of teriyakiesque sauce.

Still, I can hardly write the word “grill” without yearning for the moment when I can once again step over the threshold of the door before me & into the light of, say, Buenos Aires Grill, where the provoleta a la cazadora—provolone with mushrooms, scallions & tomato—is like a giant grilled cheese sandwich you dropped on the floor, so you just eat it right off the linoleum there in the kitchen, scooping up the filling with the bread, because it’s too good to toss…in fact better this way, the exception that proves—or maybe the refutation of—the 5-second rule.

BAGprovolone

Or behind the bars of, oh, El Taco de Mexico, where that tugboat of a twice-stuffed burrito—its hull laden with a chile relleno as well as beans & rice—steams on through the purest of green chiles, porkless & just this side of brothy.

ETDMburrito

Or in the colorful if liquorless confines of Los Carboncitos, amid posters advertising the sort of local boxing tourney you just know devolves into a parking-lot free-for-all, where the foot-long huaraches evoke oval sopes or even Turkish pides—unless you get
the Cubano: festooned out the wazoo with beef, ham, cotija, tomato, red onion,
jalapeno, avocado, and “Mexican sausage” I’ll swear up & down is chopped hot dog,
it’s comparable to nada.

LChuarache

Or even, as it cools & darkens through the fall, in the rock garden of Domo—a place I consider largely overrated but for the jars of pit viper wine lining the kitchen window

Domowine

& the battara yaki, a sort of shrimp frittata smothered in Domo’s sweet-sour “original sauce” & mayo & bonito flakes & I don’t know what all.

Domoomelette1

Help me…