The Trenchermen

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Archive for the ‘Restaurants’ Category

NYMag Sandwich List #38: Pork ‘Burger,’ Xi’an Famous Foods

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I’ve abandoned my plan to systematically eat and describe all of the sandwiches on the NYMag 101 sandwiches list, but I continue to use the list as a wellspring of culinary discovery.  (Someone was kind enough to create a Google Map of the 101 sandwich locations.)  With that in mind, eager to break from my PBJ lunch routine, my office-mate and I wandered into the heart of Manhattan’s Chinatown — East Broadway, under the Manhattan Bridge — for a taste of Shanxi cuisine at Xi’an Famous Foods.  To connect the dots for our readers, it’s a chain of small restaurants that started in Flushing, in the Golden Mall (yes, we’ve eaten there before and blogged and vlogged about it), and has now expanded to Chinatown and the East Village.  The highlight of the restaurant’s offering is the “Liang Pi” Cold Noodles.  The sandwich featured in the NYTimes is the Lamb “Burger,” which I found to be loaded with far too much cumin.  But NYMag loves the Pork “Burger,” so I gave it a shot.

NYMag says this sandwich, which is made of pulled pork stuffed into a bing-like bun, could “rival any Carolina barbecue.”  I disagree.  Although the smoky, vinegar sauce is nice and less sweet than most Chinese barbecue sauces I’ve tasted and the bun is warm with a nice crunch, the sandwich is altogether unremarkable and familiar.  It is incredibly greasy and the pork is stewed into a textureless mush.  At least the cumin-loaded Lamb “Burger” offers an unfamiliar and exciting flavor combination.

As for the Carolina comparison: forget it.  The best barbecue I ever encountered was in Holly Hill, South Carolina, at a place called Sweatman’s, and it is an act of exceptional generosity even to mention Xi’an Famous Food’s Pork “Burger” in the same paragraph.  To say this “Burger” is a “rival” of a place like Sweatman’s is a cruel joke.

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Written by trencherman

October 20, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Restaurants

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Steak ‘n Shake (Springfield, MO)

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In the recent surge of food enthusiasm, much attention has been focused on the hamburger, America’s favorite food.  There are those who praise the fat patty, composed of carefully-calibrated mixes of meat, sometimes filled with flavor-adding ingredients.  There are others who prefer a smashed, buttery burger.  In New York, Shake Shack is the genre-defining purveyor in the latter category.  In California (and elsewhere,  now), In-n-Out Burger generally wins.  On our recent trip to Missouri, we tried the Midwest’s leading contender, Steak ‘n Shake.  In my opinion, it’s better than the rest.  (My contacts from Saint Louis agree.)

We visited what I am told is the first Springfield location:  a classic diner format with the word “Takhomasak” (take home a sack?) displayed on an awning out front.  I ordered the Original Double ‘n Cheese, which comes with two patties, American cheese, and a selection of toppings.  The patties are smashed, cooked through, and somewhat flaky.  And very greasy.  But the meat is delicious; it tastes more fresh and buttery than the  grayed-through patties you get in most other fast-food chains.  The toppings included the standard fare — ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayo, etc. — and some exquisite others, most notably mustard relish.

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Written by trencherman

September 23, 2010 at 11:58 am

Arthur Bryant’s BBQ (Kansas City, MO)

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We recently traveled to the great tornado-whipped state of Missouri for a wedding, a house-cleaning, and some strenuous and significant family time.  But all of that was in Springfield, a city that I would imagine to be in a different state from Kansas City if the maps didn’t tell me otherwise.  (Actually, that’s kind of a trick, but I digress.)  We flew into Kansas City International Airport, which meant that before driving three-and-a-half long flat hours to Springfield, we were able to stop for some world-class barbeque.  It was tough to choose our spot, but it came down to Oklahoma Joe’s, which Anthony Bourdain called “one of the 13 places to eat before you die,” Jack’s Stack, a chain that Zagat Survey named the “#1 Barbecue House in the Country,” and Arthur Bryant’s, which is, according to Calvin Trillin in 1974, “…possibly the single best restaurant in the world.”  We went with Arthur Bryant’s, because it was most convenient and because I’m a huge Calvin Trillin fan.  (Ed. note:  Trillin spends his summers less than 5 miles from my parents, in Nova Scota.)

As for the food: delicious, but definitely not the best restaurant in the world.  The highlight of the meal was the Beef Sandwich, which was a mountainous stack of fatty smoked brisket piled on pieces of white bread that were clearly overmatched by the meat’s juices.  There were several choices of sauce, all varieties of the classic molasses- and tomato-based sauce Kansas City is known for. The rib tips were fairly charred, but the tender pieces of meat hidden beneath the blackened crusts were smoky and sweet.  We also had a pork sandwich that was decent, but not memorable.

The restaurant itself was charmingly simple.  A big, brick building in a dodgy neighborhood.  The interior walls are unevenly covered in a smattering of local sports images, collages of prominent African-American public figures, and autographed photographs of celebrities and politicians.  Among the most prominent of the latter category were photographs of Jimmy Carter eating with Arthur Bryant himself, as well as a series of images of John McCain and Sarah Palin enjoying a meal with-the-people while campaigning in 2008.  I’d say that speaks to the universal appeal of the place, but who knows.

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Written by trencherman

September 21, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Posted in Restaurants

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Northeast Chinese Food (Flushing, NY)

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Yesterday, several of us biked up into Flushing to see the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival and to try some food from Northeast China (Dōngběi sìshěng, formerly part of Manchuria).  Earlier this year, the New York Times ran a great article about food from this region and the few restaurants in Flushing that produce it.  Very appealing stuff.

We chose a restaurant called Rural Restaurant — it is called Hong Yi Shun in the article in the Times — that was small but busy.  There were a few families inside and one large group of men drinking from a bottle of bái jiǔ that they kept on the floor under one of their seats: all signs pointing to an authentic experience.

But getting to the point: the food was incredible and, for the most part, unlike any other Chinese food I’ve eaten (except the one time I ate food from this region, at a great and now-defunct restaurant called Dong Bei Ren — literally, East North People — in Shanghai).  The best dish was probably the Spicy Cuminy Lamb, which is small chunks of lamb rubbed with star anise and ground cumin and sauteed with spicy peppers.

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August 8, 2010 at 7:17 pm

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Fried Dumplings (Chinatown, NYC)

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As I mentioned in my recent post on PB&J, one of the food categories that thrills me endlessly is the dumpling.  I will eat just about anything in dumpling form.  While I certainly appreciate the finer, more delicate manifestations of the form, I also love the dumpling because it’s generally cheap.  Around Chinatown, you’ll find a number of holes-in-the-wall that serve $1 dumplings, or some variation thereof.  Generally, it’s five dumplings or four buns per order.  Not bad for $1.  The problem is the range in quality.

After years of research, I’ve determined that Chinatown’s finest purveyor of the lowest-brow Chinese pork dumpling and bun is “Fried Dumpling” (how many of these spots have the same name?) on Mosco Street, a narrow side street just off of Mott.

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July 23, 2010 at 10:35 am

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Social Paraíso (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

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Here comes another post from the archives (of my brain and Jenny’s BlackBerry). While we were in Buenos Aires for a week in mid-March, we ate.  A lot.  Mostly steak.  There were several notable meals, including lunch at Mark’s in Palermo and dinners at La Cabrera and Cabaña Las Lilas, which made it onto R.W. Apple’s final list of restaurants.  The food was great.  But the one meal that stood out from the rest was a late lunch we ate at a little restaurant called Social Paraíso on a shady — as in, tree-lined — street in Palermo Hollywood. We had walked past the restaurant while winding our way through the leafy neighborhood, and its simple, elegant interior and alluringly nostalgic gold-leaf window sign caught our attention.  It was closed for the day, but we made it in just before they closed for lunch the following day and had a great meal.

The details are below.

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July 19, 2010 at 11:11 pm

NYMag Sandwich List #99: Sesame Pancake With Beef, Vanessa’s Dumplings

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And the final post of the day.  Returning once again to the NYMag sandwich list.  On my way home from the gym, famished from my first post-Toronto run, it occurred to me that Vanessa’s Dumplings was only a few steps away from the 3rd Avenue L-train station.  So I checked it out.

I am a big fan of the filled sesame pancake, having discovered it late one night at my local late night spot, M Noodle Shop (which is, by the way, awesome, open until 6 a.m., and very salty).  M Noodle has a sandwich sesame pancake stuffed with pickled vegetables that just knocks me down every time I eat it.  Something about the combination of the grease from the pancake, the sweet from the sesame, and sour from the pickled vegetables just hits all the spots.  Anyway, back to Vanessa’s…

The sandwich is, as NYMag suggests, a kind of variation on the banh mi.  The roast beef, like the cuts that come in pho in cheap vietnamese restaurants, was very thinly-sliced and marbled with chewy, overcooked fat.  But the meat was tasty and the grease and saltiness of the pancake was cut effectively by the cool, crisp vegetables (pickled cucumbers, carrots, cilantro) stuffed into the sandwich.  I actually preferred this to the last banh mi I had (see post from earlier today).  This is a good option, and super cheap (though you have to wonder how this made it onto the NYMag list and other stellar sandwiches like the meatloaf at Rye or the Sage Egg and Cheese at Five Leaves or any of the sandwiches at Hamilton Deli didn’t make it.  But that’s another conversation for another day).

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Written by trencherman

June 23, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Posted in Media, Restaurants

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