Globeater - Grubbing around the Globe

Bob’s Pig Shop, Pauls Valley, OK: THE COOLEST PLACE ON EARTH?

We at Denveater grew up in big bad Oklahoma.

Like megamesmerizers The Flaming Lips, like notorious Normanite & owner of great gourmet shop Forward Foods’ Wampus (whom you may have met here), like doc-directing dynamo Bradley Beesley & spell-casting yarn-spinner

BPSPhil2

Phil Henderson—

fisheries biologist & proprietor for the past 3 decades plus of the beloved 76-year-old BBQ pitstop Bob’s Pig Shop—I grew up in the Sooner State.

Unlike them, though, I can’t take any credit for the global phenom that the Okie Noodling Tournament has become since its inception in 2000.

That said, this year, for the 1st time, I’m at least attending the bare-handed catfishing contest founded by Beesley & Henderson, scored in spirit by the Lips & rounded out by a Wampus-sponsored catfish cookoff.

The noodlers were off in a cloud of dust—or a spray of murk, I guess—as of 7pm CST this eve to go sticking their fists down the faces of ancient aquatic beasties, & they’ll be due at the weigh-in in Bob’s parking lot by no later than 7pm tomorrow (last year’s piscine prizewinner was nearly 65 lbs.).

Until then, I’ll be stuffing my own face in the museum of major mementos & cracker-ass curios (in the positive sense) that is the Pig Shop dining room.

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no relation

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look familiar? see way above & below
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While the noodlers are flailing all over Lake Eufaula (or wherever their secret holes are), & the toddlers are flocking & gawking ’round the catfish-&-human-filled demo tank, & the cookoff contestants are grilling up to their gills, I’ll be chowing down on

BPSchoppedpork

the marinated & chopped Pig Sandwich

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with red pepper–spiked pickle relish & some of the best table sauce I’ve ever tasted (catch the splotch at the bottom)—a vinegary variation on Phil’s great-uncle’s sweeter original—plus satisfyingly soupy, lightly spiced beans on the side;

BPSfries

hand-cut, skin-on, perfectly crisped fries coated in Phil’s own special blend of seasonings;

& lordy knows what all else I’ve yet to try—the babybacks? the tamales with chili (does not equal chile)? the prime rib on house-baked sourdough? a bowlful of that table sauce I’d lap up in a patch of sunlight like a kitten? (kittenfish?) in a flash?

Tune in this weekend to find out. (UPDATE: More about Bob’s here!)

Bob's Pig Shop on Urbanspoon

Big Apple/Beantown Dispatch 3: Eastern Standard & the decline of Western civilization

With every drink you die a little more inside, lean a little more hellward.

That’s the moral to the story of Eastern Standard in Boston’s Kenmore Square, where celebrated young buck of a bar manager Jackson Cannon is the devil with whom you strike a Faustian bargain—the tenderest cut of your soul for but a sip of bliss, believe you me.

But hey, moral, happy ending, same difference. Especially in the light of day—midday, to be exact; nothing like a few vodka cocktails over a 3-hour-long lunch in the company of old friends to feel, in Stephen Dobyns’s words, your “great red soul
trembling like a cubic meter of raspberry Jell-O.”

Or frothing like a Russian Tea Room.

ESKbeetmartini

This slug of beet-infused Christiana vodka, shaken with just a touch of yogurt & citrus, went down like a borscht slush, & so did the 2nd one, & the Earth & Brine—

ESKearthbrine

combining Reyka vodka with celery-infused vemouth & bitters to create what was indeed less a dirty martini than an earthy one—went down just as easy, & so did the conversation, veering from extreme shepherding to Incubus, a 1966 horror flick in Esperanto starring William Shatner. I love my weird friends.

And so, on that note, did the Heather in Queue—a “riff on a gimlet” with gin, vermouth, Fernet Branca, orange liqueur & a flamed orange peel—which just happens to be named for the friend, an ES regular, who told us about the neon sheep & also about bookending a single meal at Osteria Marco with orders of burrata on a recent visit here to Denver. Such is the stuff that makes a legend of a girl.

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All the while we noshed on the likes of deep-fried sweet Maine shrimp—their season so short, their memory so fresh in its lingering—

ESKfriedshrimp

& the house charcuterie plate, which Chef Kickass Jamie Bissonnette made famous before decamping for the Oringer Empire & which the current crew has kept up to snuff: this one boasted smoked sausage & the most luscious mortadella, chunky with cubes of pure fat & pistachios.

ESKcharcuterie

And steak tartare—to my tastes a little overworked, its strongly seasoned add-ins obscuring rather than enhancing the flavor of the meat,

ESKtartare

but given that it came with a side of shoestring fries all had to be forgiven, if for no other reason that it, an appetizer, came with a side.

ESKfries

That’s my kind of generosity. Hey, could I get a side of sandwich with that salad? Does that soup come with a side of cake?

Meanwhile, Yumyum—a longtime regular on Chowhound’s Boston board to whom Boston Magazine recently gave cred for expertise where it was overdue, as well as to my old pal MC Slim JB et al.—shared her schnitzel

ESKschnitzel

along with her right-on opinion it needed more lemon. The breading was ideal though.

And so on, & so on—the Director knocked back a couple of Medjool date–infused bourbons; dear Michael, dreamy Dasha & stunning young Elizabeth shared various green things & discussed Dasha’s recent work on an energies calendar, which I really don’t know what that means other than something breathtaking (& purchasable here, along with numerous other beauties):

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And Lisa & her beau, who stopped by just to say hi & then plopped down for lunch after all—because that’s what my friends do best, is surrender to indulgence.

Talk about setting the eastern standard.

Eastern Standard on Urbanspoon

Big Apple/Beantown Dispatch 2: Neptune Oyster in a class, in a post, in my heart by itself

Straight from Boston’s South Station to Haymarket & on into me olde stomping grounds, the North End, the Director & I, luggage in tow, reached the Neptune Oyster entrance at 11:30 am sharp, just as owner Jeff Nace was opening the door. He gave me a hug. The staff proffered hearty hellos. Our server welcomed us back

NO3

at the bar

with flutes of prosecco. We were home.

And home was better than ever.

Last summer, upon our very first return to my all-time favorite restaurant since both I had left for Denver & the original chef, David Nevins, had left for Norwalk & Osetra Sono, I felt the oh-so-slightest of letdowns—if the magic wasn’t gone with new chef Nate Nagy, it would never again, I feared, be quite so blinding, grinding, hot-spellbinding.

I feared wrong. Following closely in Nevins’ madcap footsteps, Nagy has nonetheless clearly hit his own stride. The proof, first & foremost, was in the pudding of pan-roasted Island Creek oysters,

NOoysterroast

a gorgeous glimpse of which got me so spasmodically jazzed I accidentally dipped my sleeve in the center shell before taking this pic. Then I deliberately dipped my face in the plate & shook it, you know, like a bachelor bashgoer at a stripper’s bosom.

Per Rowan Jacobsen’s handy-dandy Oyster Guide, Island Creeks are “salty as all get-out,” as well as firm, clean & buttery. Hear, hear to the latter trio, although these particular babies didn’t strike me as the former—& all the better for that, given that they sat atop dollops of house-deviled ham, which could have been overkill. Instead the combo was electrifying & soothing by turns as the flavor of what was called cucumber crème fraîche, but seemed to be paprika-spiked crème fraîche with squirts of cuke smoothie all round, percolated through. Truly a dish for the ages, along with Neptune’s other forever-&-a-day-worthy contributions to the canon: pickled beef tongue & fried oysters piled high with gruyère, sauerkraut & Russian dressing; short rib carpaccio piled higher with fried onion on a bed of garlic mayo–drizzled mâche; braised baby octopus over black polenta with slow-roasted tomatoes…

You see, for me, this tiny place inheres in reverie—sometimes, granted, as romantic as it is culinary (as an old Chowhound thread still embarrassingly reveals); the Director & I have spent countless hours there doing just what we did on this visit—reveling in each other’s boozy company & marveling at most every bite. Something about the misty aura—the etched glass & chalked-on mirrors, the marble & subway tiles, the embossed tin & ice-covered raw bar—invites rapt contemplation as much as the scattering of little gems like this yellowtail tartare with a salad of baby greens & sunchoke chips as well as daubs of ginger-pear vinaigrette—lovely accompaniments all, but then that hamachi could have come covered in mud & still sparkled through.

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Would you believe this open-faced sardine sandwich was light?

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Well, okay, me neither. Not quite. But Nagy & crew (of 1 or 2 at most) certainly handled it more elegantly than most kitchens would or could, frying a fresh, hence just this side of mild, filet to a delicate gold, layering it along with a mound of frisée & a sunny-side-up egg onto a toasted slice of brioche & spooning round a maple-bacon vinaigrette that actually was a subtly flavored dressing, not a viscous mix of syrup & drippings.

Of course, we couldn’t leave before we’d sopped up Neptune’s superb, pickle-heavy tartar sauce with a few fried clams.

NOclams

Of course, we could hardly leave, period. Wistful backwards glance, bittersweet belly rub.

Neptune Oyster on Urbanspoon

Dispatch from a suspicious oasis: Venue, Kearney, NE

Driving home through Nebraska from Cedar Rapids, we’d planned to return to the

Truck – Paradise-philippines

semi-paradise

we’d found on the way there in Grand Island—a name so topographically off it might as well have applied to the local landmark that was the stand-alone buffet at the Holiday Inn, oozing dressings, gravies, glazes & fillings over every dish like lava covering straw huts. But upon reaching city limits sooner than expected, we decided to press another 40 min. onward to the Holiday Inn in even smaller Kearney—picturing all the while an even downhomier buffet whereupon the average item would surely boast an average of 2 products made by Smucker’s, Durkee &/or Kraft, sometimes 3.

Checking in, though, I was intrigued by the relative luxury of the lobby: matching armchairs, a flickering fireplace, chessboards & coffee table books strewn among ornate

HIobjets

faux antiques.

I was even more intrigued when I got a load of the mod logo on the dining voucher the receptionist handed me—

Venuecard

good for 1 free drink or 10% off our meal. Was this some kind of show of class?

Short answer: yeah, ish!

KearneyBar

contemporary glass vases in fun colors & shapes

Venueart

contemporary art vaguely reminiscent of

Lightforms

Matta

Long answer: we started with wine from a real live list, with non-merlots & everything,

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served in logo-etched glasses

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with focaccia that erred a little on the airy side, & came with butter rather than olive oil, but still, warm & fresh, it was a nice try.

Venuebread

Snobbishly uncomfortable with being mildly impressed so far, I ordered some crabcakes with remoulade & honey-jalapeno dipping sauces, envisioning breadcrumb-coated breadcrumb patties accompanied by ramekins filled with some ratio of Smucker’s to Kraft (what, no Durkee?) that I could ridicule with relieved abandon.

Venuecrabcakes

Instead I found myself chowing down on the real thing—not without a little filler, but not without sufficient crab flavor either; & as for the dips, both were quite distinctive, creamy with a subtle touch of sweetness & a stronger one of heat.

The Italian chopped salad I followed it up with was likewise the real thing—the exercise in balance that a main course salad should be, with generous amounts of salami, pepperoni, hard-cooked egg & tomato (along with lesser portions of cucumber & parmesan), but plenty of green as well; housemade croutons were a bit salty, but their cornbread-like texture was a pleasure.

Venuesalad

The Director’s medium-rare filet mignon, meanwhile, was almost special, with a fierce sear, a magenta interior & a side of remarkably fluffy piped garlic–white cheddar mashed potatoes. Meat & potatoes are meat & potatoes until they’re not.

Venuesteak

Practicing my recently espoused philosophy of sugar-snarfing, I asked to see the dessert list; our waitress returned with a sample tray. At a Holiday Inn on I-80 in Kearney, Nebraska, they’re bringing round the silver like it was the Savoy. Such an incongruous gesture of formality was touching, but not because it was delusional; my peanut butter mousse cake was lovely, really—the layers very chocolatey, not merely sweet, & the filling very peanutty, not merely creamy.

Venuecake

Much to my own sheepish amusement, I really have to recommend Venue. I don’t recommend I-80, but if you’ve got to take it, you might as well do it in style.

Dispatch from Iowa City: Gorgeous George’s Buffet

It’s a classic boy-meets-girl story, the Director’s & mine. Except the part where boy meets girl, since he doesn’t really remember it. & the part where boy loses girl, since he was in love with someone else at the time & didn’t so much pursue me in the 1st place as, okay, startle & flee from my pursuit. But the part about finding me again, that actually did happen, some 11 years after his old pal Joe Franklin—whom I’d been casually dating mainly because he looked cute in shirtless overalls & workboots he’d spraypainted pink—introduced us over a round of pool at The Foxhead in Iowa City.

While The Foxhead is long & literally storied as the all-but-official HQ for generations of students at the Writers’ Workshop such as yours truly (however arguably by fluke), its place in my heart has far more to do with the chance at true romance it ultimately yielded than with any treasured memory of the 100s of hours I spent there knocking back brave bulls & partaking in passionate debates about poetry, a) b/c I was knocking back brave bulls, which have a way of knocking you back in turn & trampling every memory in their digestive path & b) b/c deep down, if purely as a matter of aesthetics, I preferred George’s Buffet down the block.

George's

As close to a townie hangout as an off-campus bar in an all-campus burg gets, George’s was darker & quieter & richer in trimmings: strung colored lights,

Hamms

vintage Hamm’s signage,

a letterboard menu listing (among very few other things) burgers as greasy & grimy as those old gopher guts of song & wallpaper straight out of a Victorian rooming house.

George'sinside

But the best part of it all was yet to be—& that’s that, 13 years hence, it still is. Nothing had changed upon a recent visit. Even the cheerily weary bartender was the same if I squinted.

So I slid into 1 of the scraped wooden booths as I did with people I used to know so long ago. & I ordered, as I did so long ago,

George'sBM

a bloody mary & mixed nuts

Nutwarmer

from the heated dispenser behind the bar,

& I proceeded, as I had so many times before, to pour my heart out about the man I was falling hard for.

Only this time, the Director was right there to hear it, to respond. This time, he loves me back. This time, our story ends happily ever after.

Were we to submit it to the Workshop, it’d be ripped apart for its far-fetched smarm.

Dispatch: “Riverfront” Grille in Grand “Island,” NE

Yeah, not even close.

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But it is a grill complete with an “e” in a Holiday Inn (for whose grandness I’ll always vouch)—

RG

where the waitress managed, much to her own surprise, to unearth a full-grown bottle of wine amid the baby bottlettes of Sutter Home white zin;

RGwine

the ol’ split-top dinner rolls were still warm;

RGrolls

& the buffet, AYCE for $8.99, had an actual whole smoked salmon garnished with cubes of cheddar, actually tender & juicy (for all its thorough cooking) prime rib, actually-terrible-but-awesome creamy broccoli salad with raisins & sunflower seeds

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& all the heart-of-the-heartland fixins,

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along with everything else from teriyaki to minestrone. What more can you ask for? We may find out on the drive back to Denver from Cedar Rapids. I’m thinking fishsticks.

KO KO: Bissonnette knocks us out (Boston)

Hitting KO Prime for the first time in a year, I came, I suspect, as close as I’ll ever come to celebrating the Saturnalia without actually traveling back in time to inhabit the body of a Roman slave, packing a week of howling, chest-pounding debauchery into an evening (that, granted, began around noon with lunch & cocktails at dante, continued with more cocktails at UpStairs on the Square & still more cocktails plus apps at Hungry Mother, & ended with a nightcap or two at No. 9 Park). As promised here—where the pics below of chef Jamie Bissonnette’s signature bone marrow & surely-soon-to-be-signature calves’ brains piperade (essentially a Basquaise sofrito, heavy on the peppers) 1st appeared—what follows is a montage that, I imagine, speaks for itself, albeit in a slur devolving into a series of grunts.

KOamuse

ceviche amuse

KOham

house-cured Bayonne ham, jamón ibérico & Cape Fear country ham with pickled lily stems & truffled aioli

KOmarrow

marrow strewn with pickled shallots over oxtail marmalade

KOseabass

pan-roasted sea bass over heirloom corn relish

KOtomatosalad

heirloom tomato salad with crottin (an aged goat cheese from Vermont) & a brushstroke of avocado

KObrains

delicious, creamy-as-pudding BRAINS sprinkled with fried capers

KOsteak

Kobe flatiron with grilled onions & romesco, professedly, though I remain confused by the profession; although almonds and stale bread are key in traditional recipes for the Spanish sauce, so are red peppers—sweet & dried chile—& tomato, & the color of the final product generally reflects as much.

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lobster bisque with a touch of sauternes

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absolutely no recollection. cocoa-dusted cheesecake? semifreddo? with mint coulis?

KOdessert1

essentially a blueberry muffin top with chocolate gelato shaped like a daisy-sprouting egg. How adorably like the whole thing was transported in a time machine made out of a vinyl beanbag from the patchwork-filled kitchen of a free-love commune circa 1972 & not at all like something you could order in a postmillennial steakhouse & lounge is that? The sauce should spell out “war is not healthy for children & other living things.”

Topping the roster: Neptune Oyster (Boston)

Melancholy descended before we did. Though Denver is not yet my home, one glimpse of the skyline from the plane window confirmed that Boston no longer can be.

Not that melancholy isn’t its own form of joy. Especially under the spectacular circumstances: the Director & I shot straight from Logan into Chinatown & The Best Little Restaurant, where we caught the tail end of a raucous party of dear old friends from chowhound.com, who plied us with leftovers—unbelieveable fried squab (is a pigeon just 1 big liver? Something of that rich iron savor seems to suffuse every inch of its flesh), eaten with squeezes of lemon & sprinkles of salt & pepper from a finger bowl; braised duck; deep-fried garlic spare ribs—& whom we plied in turn with booze until the movements of at least 1 of us began to resemble those of some sort of cross between a squid & a corpse. & I’m relieved to say for once it wasn’t me. As far as I recall.

From there we hit the poshest sack I ever did hit: the apartment of 1 said hound, whose terrace affords (definitely the right word for it) a nonpareil view of much of Boston proper & its landmarks—the Pru & the Citgo sign beyond the Common to the west, the capitol dome & the brownstones of Beacon Hill to the north—

Capitol

Boston

while the couch afforded an even more stunning view of Sam, landmark of his own domain, totally as wide as he is tall:

Sam

Next morning, after coffee on his freakin’ great yacht, moored at Commercial Wharf on the harbor, the same hound showed us his lobster traps

Trap

which were however filled with crabs, apparently too small for good eating, so he stabs them with a nail & makes bait of them. This one made a break for it to no avail. Hypocrite that I am as an insatiable carnivore, I couldn’t watch but I think the Director couldn’t not.

Crab2

& then it was time to meet yumyum for lunch at the eatery that I will forever hold dear above all others: Neptune Oyster.

The moment I crossed the threshold of Jeff Nace’s wee seafooder in the North End 3 years ago, all of a block & a half from my then-apartment, I knew it would be my place—clean & well-lighted indeed, from the pressed-tin ceilings & the subway tiles to the etched glass & the mirrors lettered with the names of the oysters of the day—

NO1

NO2

which are also listed, complete with the most charmingly precise tasting notes (Katama Bay, MA: “briny, buttered popcorn finish”; Kumamoto, WA: “plump, creamy, hints of cucumber”) on the slips of paper on which they record your order—& the Director & I record our memories of each visit:

Photo 20

What I didn’t yet know is that my place, low-key & laidback as it appeared, would introduce to me a chef whose culinary style was so startlingly bold & intelligent as well as just plain fun as to be, I dare say, absolutely original in a field where most so-called creations are really just reactions, variations. David Nevins has made many of the best dishes I’ve had in my life: a salad of salt cod & crispy lamb with parsnip puree; smoked salmon mousse with roe, kiwano melon & horseradish croutons; above all those unforgettable fried oysters with pickled beef tongue, gruyère, sauerkraut & Russian dressing—which, for me, truly expanded the horizon of a single plate—& on & on.

4 of the last 5 meals I had before moving to Denver were at Neptune; so genuinely broken up was I about saying goodbye that it wasn’t until I heard Nevins had left to open his own place—Osetra in Norwalk, CT—that I could genuinely say I’d done the right thing by moving halfway across the country to be with the love of my life. Sure, the Director’s my soulmate, but Nevins was my soulchef.

I trusted, however, Nace’s savvy, & imagined he’d hire someone who’d follow in Nevins’ footsteps—however wildly, wonderfully all over the place they may be.

& so he has, though I can’t say from 1 meal this Nate Nagy fellow is quite Nevins’ equal.

NObass2

On the flavor spectrum, the Director’s pan-seared bass with succotash & a mussel vinaigrette (they were out of the razor clams they usually use) ranged from bright to brighter.

NOoctopus

Octopus salad with fennel, green apple & citrus sparkled too; still, I couldn’t help but dream of how Nevins’ version might have looked (especially given that the menu at his new place boasts a braise of octopus with chicken, of all things. Another dish combines caviar & bone marrow. The mind boggles).

NOtrout

Cornmeal-crusted fried trout & crab hush puppies with blueberry brown butter & parsnip puree was the most like it, veering from sweet to salty & back again.

As always, we were treated with tender care by servers highly seasoned for their youth; complimentary welcome-back glasses of brachetto d’acqui ended the meal, & we knew they wouldn’t be the last. Neptune will always be my first Boston stop, if never again my home away from home.

Dispatch: But this Chola hangs with Martha Stewart (NYC)

So it turns out Gwen Stefani isn’t the only rich & famous white chick with a chola fixation; Martha Stewart’s down too. Only in her case the chola’s not so much a Latina gangbanger as an Indian restaurant on E. 58th named for a centuries-old Tamil dynasty. Not so much this as this. I was turned off by the ass-kissy frequency with which the website drops her name, but when we couldn’t find this Afghani place we were looking for & realized we were in the neighborhood we stopped in.

An hour later we crawled out, as stuffed as we’ve ever been, our bones creaking like antique armchairs obese people have just plopped down on, because that’s essentially what they were for the nonce. Our own bodies couldn’t hold our weight—not after these amazingly crispy-gooey eggplant spears batter-fried with chilies and onions,

Cholaeggplant

& this garlic naan, which could’ve been more garlicky but couldn’t have been more strikingly accompanied by something like spiced apple butter,

Cholanaan

Chola on Urbanspoon

& this roti canai—the flatbread the exact likeness of an open sopaipilla, the chicken curry uncommonly light, fresh & redolent of cilantro & mustard seed,

Cholaroti

& this more typical—heavier & more pungent—curry of broccoli, cauliflower, what appeared to be grey squash, bell pepper & potato,

Cholaveggies

which was a complimentary complement to this biryani with paneer, which was only heavy on the rice; it needed more of the stuff that makes biryani biryani—caramelized onions, raisins, cashews—as well as the stuff that makes biryani with paneer biryani with paneer, namely paneer,

Cholabiryani

& these lamb patties with mint, tamarind & tomato chutneys, the almost marinara-like latter of which

Cholalamb

along with the thickest, tangiest raita I’ve ever tasted

Cholaraita

really made said patties, otherwise rather dry. Still, more hits than misses here, as opposed to here,

Cholatablecloth

on my side of the table, where the path from plate to mouth was apparently pretty treacherous.

Dispatch: Sweetlacoche! Hell’s Kitchen (NYC)

We’re on holiday in New York, where a few paces in any direction lead to the doorsteps of restaurants Ukrainian & Uzbeki, Tunisian & Burmese, Swiss & Scottish & Singaporean. If there were a country with a population of 2, 1 of them would be here running a restaurant. The most obscure, exotic, anthropologically fascinating cuisines are all around for the sampling—& where’s the first place we fly in from Tacolorado to go? An upscale Mexican joint called Hell’s Kitchen.

Scoff though you understandably might, it turned out to serve up one hell of a meal indeed.

What made this savory if stock guacamole special were the chips, all thick & addictively tricked out in guajillo chile powder.

Hkguac

Seems someone in the kitchen was in fact a bit masamaniacal, a bit cuckoo for corn doughs, which showed up almost everywhere in one form or another, mostly another. The amuse bouche (what’s that in Spanish? Diverte boca? Let’s say boca haha) that was this intriguingly sweet black bean dip—spiked, I’d swear, with cinnamon sugar—came with crisped wedges of cornbread,

Hkbeandip

Hell's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

while unusually tender venison graced this sope—in itself a sort of corny naan or fry bread but as a whole essentially a grilled tostada:

Hkvenison

And then there were the huitlacoche crepes.

Hkcrepe

Needless to say, supple though they were, the starchy parts were not the stars. Their role was complex but supporting—to simultaneously cover up & reveal corn’s own dark side,* to allow it to unfold before our tastebuds while remaining thankfully folded before our eyes, sparing our corneas the deep & lasting scratches more than brief glimpses of this stuff could cause.

For those who need to bone up on their smut: huitlacoche is a fungus that grows on corn. I have always wanted the opportunity to try it, which is not the same as wanting to try it, ever since I first read about it some years ago over at The Sneeze. Steve, Don’t Eat It! is a tear-jerkingly, jerk-tearingly (I don’t know what that means, but it sounds right) brilliant occasional series of posts detailing the author’s experiences with foods those of us who grew up stateside ingesting the likes of say this or this might super-ironically find gross: natto, pickled pork rinds, etc. According to Steve, I could expect huitlacoche to look like “imported sludge,” smell like “corn that forgot to wipe” & “burst in [my] mouth like a black pus-filled blister.”

True all that—& yet, & yet. Per the static head-space analysis—Jesus, does that mean smelling? I think it means they smelled it—3 scientists did on it, huitlacoche’s main aroma compounds are sotolon & vanillin, which per Wikipedia respectively evoke caramel & vanilla. Sure enough, there’s enough sweetness softening the earthiness to make you glad you’re consuming what the dictionary defines as “something that impairs growth, withers hopes & ambitions, or impedes progress & prosperity.”

In that sense, the mascarpone-drenched dish was par for the course; everything here, as the Director put it, “edges toward sweetness” even as it sidles spiciness’s way. Here the heat doesn’t creep up on you so much as shadow you from a safe distance. The heat basically wears a trenchcoat & fedora to hang around these pork taquitos, for instance,

Hkporktaquitos

whose smokiness contrasted with a whole sweet-&-sour spectrum of garnishes, from tamarind sauce to cranberry-jicama relish. As for perch steamed in banana leaf,

Hkperch

I can say only this: no glass of wine at Hell’s Kitchen is over $10. As far as I could see straight, the fish was still swimming. You get my drift.

*In the movie version, huitlacoche would be played by Marlon Brando, who, after all, really knew how to act like a Mexican. &, obviously, like a fungus.