For my birthday this year, my wonderful friends Ali and John took me out to a restaurant that I had been admiring from afar for pretty much its entire existence: Piccolo! I first encountered Chef Doug Flicker’s food at February’s Gastro Non Grata event, wherein he sent out an amazing pork meatball that totally threw everyone into a feeding frenzy.
But I had actually heard of him a lot earlier, from Jon Radle, a chef with whom I was interning in the winter of 2010. He said that Flicker was one of the best chefs out there, and that everyone could learn a lot from him. So I was just hysterical with anticipation when I finally sat down at Piccolo yesterday. Continue reading
I don’t know if I’ve dropped this bomb yet, but I’m two weeks in on a stage at the Grand Cafe, which is a bistro in south Minneapolis. What that means is that I’m working on a volunteer basis in order to learn how to work in a restaurant kitchen. It’s been a really positive experience so far, and I’m glad to have this opportunity. In exchange for my labor, John, the chef de cuisine, invited me to have dinner at the cafe for free!
What can I say? The meal I had last night blew me away. As each course came out, I immediately noticed little things that I had played a part in: the shredded duck, julienned pickled peppers, little leaves of frisée. It was a great feeling. I’ve never been so proud. The supreme icing on the cake was a last round of vodka shots in the Grand kitchen with the chefs. Bliss.
I didn’t take pictures, but here’s my recollection of what we had (I scribbled these down last night when I was drunk so NO GUARANTEES):
ocean trout tartare w/ truffle oil on a house-made cracker
seared scallops on a squash puree
spicy shrimp w/ pickled peppers and cheesy grits (paired with Pabst Blue Ribbon!!!)
blue cheese tart and duck confit salad
ahi tuna w/ leeks/escarole/bacon and potato puree
duck breast w/ potato gnocchi
pumpkin creme brulee
It’s a blustery day in Minneapolis, but I’m glad to be here and not at the farm, where all of my former coworkers are frantically harvesting every single fruit (i.e. peppers, tomatoes) in the field in preparation for tonight’s frost. To ease my transition into civilian life, I’ve been biking a lot to try to familiarize myself with the city. It’s definitely a pain in the ass with 27 mph winds farting in your face the whole time, LET ME TELL YA.
I worked up an appetite so I cranked it over to France 44, a huge cheese and wine shop in Edina. Owned by a fellow NYC transplant, it stocks lots of artisanal products from Brooklyn and also got really good reviews from Citypages and Chowhound. Like any good cheese shop, it has a really appealing repertoire of sandwiches that feature both novel and classic cheese + stuff combinations.
The girl working at the counter was really knowledgable and friendly — she’s even going to apprentice at a cheesemaking farm in Vermont! I stupidly forgot to introduce myself, but maybe next time. Is it weird to want cheese-loving friends? I just want to meet someone with whom I can munch on cheese plates! Is that so much to ask?!
The sandwich pictured above (set against a tumultuous Lake Harriet) is their house special, “The Cheesemonger.” It features sopressata salami, provolone cheese and a pepper & onion relish in a six-inch piece of baguette. And with the student discount (hehe) it was only 5 bucks with change! The verdict? Fuck yes. They’ve got it down.
Out of respect for the proprietor’s hatred of publicity, I will refrain from dropping his name in this post. Just know that eating at this restaurant is probably one of the most sincere experiences you will ever have in New York City. This guy just does not give a shit, and that is something I can really get down with.
Last month, I had the pleasure of eating there with Chris and my friend Parvoneh. The fact that they were both tourists was a good enough excuse to do crazy shit like wait in an hour-long line for brunch. The wait felt so long that when someone asked me what I was waiting for I forgot for a second. Totally worth it though, and here’s why:
EGGS, BARBEQUE PULLED PORK, TOAST AND MACARONI AND CHEESE!
MACARONI AND CHEESE AND BLACKBERRY PANCAKES!
A HUGEASS PUMPKIN SHAKE!
This spring break, I went to Chicago, where my friend Katy promised to take me on a trashy-yet-wonderful food tour. I’ve realized at this point that pretty much any “food tour” one goes on will invariably involve a dangerous amount of junk food. The fried catfish dinner at JJ’s Fish in Calumet City gave me visions of demons made entirely of deep-fried batter, and my arteries cringed at the sight of it.
Shit was fucking delicious, of course. The catfish was bony and tricky to navigate, though once I found a clear path, the combination of the meat, hot sauce and batter (which was also full of hot sauce) was inspired. But, honestly, what isn’t improved by a hearty deep-frying? Somehow I felt that getting candied sweet potatoes instead of french fries was a much healthier decision, though the gooey brown sugar sauce told me to fuck off and die. The sweet potatoes were intriguingly gloopy and made me feel nostalgic for things I never experienced before. Every meal at JJ’s comes with two slices of white bread on the bottom that soak up the fat — I was dared to eat them but I couldn’t bring myself to torture my body any more than I already had. Maybe on my death bed, while shooting up heroin.
There are two Chinese restaurants in Grinnell, IA: Chuong Garden and China Sea. I’m surprised that there are enough Chinese people in this town (pop. 9,369) to sustain two Chinese restaurants, but it illustrates an interesting dichotomy that I tended to overlook in New York: every somewhat classy restaurant needs a sketchtastic counterpart. China Sea, with its all-you-can-fit-into-a-plastic-container buffet and mystery meatstuffs, is the goatee-adorned evil twin of Chuong Garden. I like the Garden a lot because they have those holographic displays of pandas and waterfalls, and one of those percolating fountains that emits dry ice-smoke near the register. If I didn’t like their food so much, I’d totally steal the fountain and install it in my room. It’d really improve the ambience, I think.
Lunch at Chuong Garden is a steal: for about 5 or 6 dollars, you can get an entree, fried rice, soup and either a deep-fried crab rangoon or an eggroll. For vegans and omnivores alike, the crispy fried tofu (pictured above) is absolutely amazing. It doesn’t come as a lunch special, but get that shit anyway and share it with the whole table. Bite-sized blocks of tofu are covered in rice flour, spices and green onions and lightly fried, served with a hoisin/chili sauce mixture on the side.
There are lots of other options if you’re looking for variety; above is my favorite, sweet and sour shrimp. What can I say? I’m mad about seafood, just mad! Also handy is the maple syrup-container full of sweet and sour sauce at every table, just in case you can’t get enough of the stuff. The soup isn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it’s decent enough on a cold day. One of their greatest dishes is the sesame shrimp, which I’m pretty sure is still off-menu. It only comes in dinner-sized portions, but it’s definitely something to look out for.
Chuong Garden (915 Broad Street Grinnell, IA 50112)
This winter break I’ve been kind of sluggish with updates, and for that I apologize. As thanks for your patience, I’ll be presenting my one-day guide to getting the best and cheapest food in New York City, which is fast becoming a modern city in its own right — we’ve finally built our first public bathroom that isn’t in a Starbuck’s today! I visited the majority of these places multiple times in the past, though the pictures were taken today as I was taking my friend Travis (of the Lone Star State) out and about the city. Are you ready to feast your eyes on this?