Dinner and Dessert with Book Club.

Here is how book club normally works: we meet once a month, we talk books for about an hour, we stuff our faces, we chat about our lives and finish up with a series of inappropriate jokes. Honestly, they’re not fit for print. And we’re generally such nice girls…

Last night we met at Melissa’s to discuss An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clark; before we could get to that, we had to get down to the serious business of eating. Normally the host provides the obscene amount of food that book group requires, but since Melissa broke a metatarsal we decided to bring the food to her. We each took a course or item: Amanda = salad, me = dessert, Darlington = beverages, and Heather would pick up the pizzas from Za, since we all were coming from work.

Heather chose four pizzas — portabello mushroom, roasted red pepper, onion, roasted garlic and goat cheese; mac n’ cheese (elbow macaroni, caramelized onion, cream sauce, four cheeses and toasted breadcrumbs); broccoli, onion, garlic, diced tomato and four cheeses; and pear, sweet onion and Gorgonzola with toasted walnuts, dried cranberries, thyme and scallion. I was absolutely terrified of the mac n’ cheese pizza (pizza and pasta and breadcrumbs?!) but eventually I made my peace with it, though ultimately I decided that it was lacking depth of flavor. Something was missing from it, but I couldn’t determine what. (Nutmeg? More cheese? Salt?) Of the four, the pizza best-loved by the group ended up being the pear. Sweet and crunchy, it surpassed the others easily. I did really enjoy the roasted garlic on the mushroom/pepper combo, and the onion was nice on the broccoli and four cheese, but they couldn’t compete with the pear and Gorgonzola.

(I just found out that Za and EVOO share both an owner and a chef; I went to EVOO for the first time earlier this year and am now interested to actually dine at Za and then compare the two. I’ll give you an update once there’s anything worth updating on.)

While I was quite happy with the pear pizza, my favorite part of the meal was Amanda’s salad of greens, avocado, pecans, blood orange and Parmesan. She also made a sharp and tangy dressing that went amazingly with the salad. Though it may not be obvious, especially considering that I seem to write mostly about rich and decadent and cheese-filled foods, I truly am trying to eat as healthily as possible, so I’ve been very focused on salads lately. Even if I were less salad-centric, I know I would have loved Amanda’s salad.

I had volunteered for dessert duty out of sheer laziness — I knew that, if I baked cookies, they would be the lightest item to carry on public transit. I decided to try a new cookie recipe and not rely on the few I know I can bang out. (Now, I want to make something absolutely clear: I am not much of a baker. I mostly have only made cookies that are easy, like chocolate chip, snickerdoodles, etc. Anything that requires rolling pins or cutters is too complicated, and have more of a chance of me fouling it all up. That said, I love cookies. I love cake. I love sweets. I just can’t make them.) I ended up making cinnamon peanut butter chocolate chip, and was thoroughly unhappy with the result because they were crunchy. I was expecting a soft and puffy pillow of a cookie, but these were the exact opposite. The girls said they liked them, but I don’t know…

arsonists5.jpgOnto the book portion of the evening…

Arsonist’s is the story of Sam Pulsifer, a self-proclaimed “bumbler,” who had been arrested, tried and incarcerated for accidentally torching the Emily Dickinson house in his hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts. Not only had he destroyed a landmark, in doing so he killed two of the museum’s tour guides — a married couple who were using chaste Miss Dickinson’s bed for an after-hours liaison — and effectively gets himself and his parents ostracized from the community. Sam is released from prison ten years later at the age of twenty-eight, completely determined to leave bumblehood behind. He marries, starts a family, moves to a posh tract-home neighborhood, and never once tells his wife of his past, going so far as to say that his parents died in a fire. In all likelihood, Sam would have happily remained on this course had he not been paid a visit by the son of the couple he unintentionally killed. After this, everything goes pear-shaped.

So. I really hated this book, so much so that I put it down at the halfway point and started reading a different novel; I disliked that book as well, but I was more interested in finishing it than returning to Arsonist’s. There was nothing that I considered enthralling about this novel — not the writing, not the plot, not the characters. Normally I can pull something of interest out of what I read (or what I eat or what I watch) but I couldn’t even do that here. The writing was boring, the plot was truly idiotic and the characters… Well, let’s just say that if Sam Pulsifer were real, I would want to deck him. Then I would move on to everyone else.

What is interesting to me is the fact that Melissa — who in spite of her foot, baked a ridiculously rich chocolate pudding cake — compared Sam in Arsonist’s to Christopher in Mark Haddon‘s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Sure, both characters tend to ramble and do make a bumble out of most things, but Christopher is autistic. Sam is just stupid. All right, perhaps that is a bit harsh. In spite of that, we did find ourselves wondering if there was something similar afflicting Sam. My verdict is no, but I’m open to hearing other readers’ opinions.

138 Massachusetts Avenue
Arlington, Massachusetts 02474

Dinner at Red Bones.


My cousin Niki moved to Boston (and the States in general) from the Philippines in January, and I’m thrilled beyond the gills that she is obsessed with food, just like me. We’ve gone out twice now and have plans to keep doing so; unsurprisingly, most of our schemes involve eating.

Last night Keith and I took her to Red Bones, a barbecue joint in our old neighborhood. When we lived within walking distance we used to go down quite frequently; now that we’ve moved away it’s not nearly as easy to meander down the bike path for some ribs and pulled pork. When we have friends visiting from out of town — or relatives who are new to town — we almost always bring them to Red Bones. In fact, Keith first took me years ago, before I had memorized the subway system. That was my introduction to barbecue; I come from Armenian/Lebanese/Filipino/Asian stock, and the only barbecue I knew prior involved potato chips. (For the record, I only like Wise.)

For me, Red Bones is all about two things: corn fritters and barbecue hash. Dense and chewy, the corn fritters arrive in a bowl of maple syrup and are absolutely delicious. How could they be otherwise, with their pool of syrup? The hash has no syrup, but it does have a fantastic texture and an even better combinations of flavors — tangy, vinegary, spicy. I order both fritters and hash, in appetizer sizes, and make my meal out of that, without fail. Last night we also shared some hush puppies; whenever I eat these puffy cornmeal balls, I’m always surprised by how strangely well the taste goes with the sour vinegar dipping sauce.

Part of what makes Red Bones so fantastic is the atmosphere; it is laid-back and convivial to such an extent that it’s no wonder that the bar, upstairs dining room and downstairs space is always busy. On Monday night, every table in the black-walled basement was taken. And why shouldn’t it be thus? The cornbread is freshly baked, the beverages are served in Mason jars, the beer selection remains impressively diverse, and the barbecue is literally finger-licking good.

Red Bones
55 Chester Street
Somerville, Massachusetts 02144

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Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America by Steve Almond

candyfreak.jpgI’ve got a terrible sweet tooth, so how could I possibly not enjoy a book dedicated to candy — particularly when the candy in question is predominantly chocolate? Not only that, but to discover that the author, one of my favorite writing instructors, is a candy-lover too? And not just a candy-lover, but the big kahuna of candy-lovers? (What is a kahuna? Why do we use this phrase?)

Candyfreak was published in 2004, and I was so taken with its honesty and humor that I recommended it to everyone I knew. Afterward I put it on a bookshelf and kind of forgot about it. (Sorry, Steve.) Then, earlier this month, I read a food writing anthology that featured a passage from Candyfreak that not only had I always liked, but also highlighted one of my favorite chocolate companies of all time. Now, I was having some avoidance issues with a few other books at the time, so I rooted through my stacks in search of it and hunkered down.

I’m excited to report that Candyfreak is just as involving a read the second time around. Even though I knew it was coming, I still snickered gleefully at the following:

Here is a catalogue of all the candy in my apartment as of right now, 3:21 pm, October 6, 2003:

  • 2 lbs miniature Clark Bars
  • 1.5 lbs dark chocolate-covered mint patties
  • 24 bite-size peanut butter cups
  • 1 lb Tootsie Roll Midgets
  • Four ounces of Altoids-like cinnamon discs
  • Six ounces cherry-flavored jellies (think budget Jujy Fruits)
  • A single gold-foiled milk chocolate ball with mysterious butter truffle-type filling
  • Two squares of Valrhona semi-sweet chocolate (on my bedside table)
  • Three pieces Fleer bubblegum

I am not counting the fourteen boxes of Kit Kat Limited Edition Dark, which I have stored in an undisclosed warehouse location, nor whatever candy I might have stashed, squirrel-like, in obscure drawers.

I’ve got to say, Steve’s apartment at 3:21 pm, October 6, 2003 sounds incredibly like my own personal Barbie Dream House. Minus the Tootsie Rolls. I’ve never been fond of those.

Title notwithstanding, Candyfreak is about more than just confectionery items, chocolates and nonpareils. There’s also more to it than the history of Big Hunks, Peanut Chews and Twin Bings. It’s about Steve — his ties to the past and his hopes for the future. Candy just happens to be the thing that holds it all together.

Intuition by Allegra Goodman.

intuition.jpg I really wanted to like this book. Instead I wanted to toss it under the sofa, never to see its wrinkled dustcover again. The concept behind Intuition seemed more than vaguely interesting: a charismatic postdoc in Cambridge discovers what could be a cancer cure, only to have his findings disputed by an embittered ex-girlfriend; a scientific hearing follows. Quite dramatic, no?

As a lover of The Crucible, I was looking forward to reading about the witch hunt the characters would have to endure. Instead, the high point for me was Goodman’s description of the mice used in the lab’s testing. A portion of the novel’s second act (there are six parts altogether) is devoted to mice and the stage of research at which they are injected with cancer cells; it is for these fictional animals and these animals alone that I felt any sort of empathy whatsoever. Indeed, Goodman writes of them with great clarity, even of their little, clinical deaths:

Here was the soft maroon heart, the size of a bean. Here the slippery liver, deep purple, its four flat lobes fanning out enormously as Cliff picked them up with his tweezers. Here the lungs. The kidneys, just the size of lentils. Here the intestines, curled intricately together. Once Cliff teased them out of the body, he’d never get them all back in again, packed as they had been.

Great stuff, right? Distressingly, nothing else in the novel stands close to this, not even in the remotest sense. In fact, the entirety reads like an inelegant mash-up of writing exercises — here is the flashback of how the young lovers first met, and of their first kiss; here is the stern co-director’s habit of knitting, bestowed upon her so that she may appear more human; here the tidy resolution, complete with the phrase “he saw the future stretching out before him”. I couldn’t believe I was actually reading the sentence from which that quotation is lifted. I thought my tired, bored mind was making it up.

Aside from the mice, the characters are wholly uninspiring. If that, in this character-driven novel, wasn’t bad enough, Goodman overzealously blankets the book with references to local landmarks. Meals aren’t just eaten at a Harvard Square restaurant, they are eaten at Harvest. Magazines aren’t simply purchased at a newsstand, they are bought at Nini’s Corner. Picnics aren’t had at a nearby pond, they take place at Walden. One character wears a Toscanini’s T-shirt. Another walks down MIT’s Infinite Corridor. Yet another goes to Plum Island to spy on the endangered Piping Plover.

Please don’t misunderstand — I am very much in favor of making a novel’s setting as authentic and integral to the story as possible. (After all, would From Here to Eternity be the same if it hadn’t taken place at Hawaii’s Schofield Barracks? Could the present in White Teeth be anywhere else but North London?) That said, Goodman is so heavy-handed with her attributions that it is completely tiresome. (Or, to use Keith’s word, irritating.) The effect is that of a name-dropper: insecure, uncertain and inflated. Exactly the opposite of how a novel should read. Unless it is intentional, of course. However, I doubt that this is the case here.

Dinner at Z-Square Café.

I was really excited to meet up with Beth this past Thursday night; we hadn’t seen each other in quite a while and had plenty to catch up on. (Forever engaging in email “conversations” with friends who live locally often loses its charm, don’t you think?) Beth and I didn’t have a solid plan as far as where to eat after a bit of a shopping jag, though. All we had prearranged was to meet in Harvard Square, head to Berk’s and take it from there. Once a very lucky Beth paid for two perfect pairs of shoes, and after a quick and fruitless detour into Urban Outfitters — which we have now decided that we are, in simple terms, too old for — we went across the street to Z-Square.

z-square-logo.jpgWhat’s interesting about Z-Square is that there is an upstairs café; downstairs, at basement-level, is a restaurant and bar. Beth and I tried downstairs first, but then the hostess informed us that it would be a fifty minute wait (Who says fifty minutes? Doesn’t everyone just lie and say forty-five and round down? Of course, I had to clarify and asked, “Did you say one-five, or five-oh?” And naturally, this made me feel a little like a loser, but really — who says fifty minutes?!). Neither Beth nor I were interested in hanging around for fifty minutes, particularly when we were both quite hungry and even more particularly so considering that the café significantly less-crowded than its subterranean counterpart, so it’s easy to spread out, relax and have a chat.

The café is mostly white and very sleek, but not in a cold, too-modern sort of way. Actually, the white tiling and white walls and bright chrome detailing made me think of a bakery: a slick, white-on-white bakery… with no baked goods. Beth and I looked over the menu — a mix of salads, sandwiches and crepes — and though we toyed with the idea of spoiling ourselves with something on the decadent side (the grilled three-cheese panini with roasted vegetables sounded especially enticing) but ultimately we both decided to at least maintain the façade of healthfulness with salads.

As I explained to Beth, sometimes I feel a twinge of guilt when I order salads, primarily because I’m most often attracted to the sort of simple salads that truly would be easy to replicate at home. That said, I sincerely doubt that I would candy walnuts just to sprinkle over my spinach and pears. (Now that I think about it, it’s not as though it’s complicated, candying walnuts. Then again, I wouldn’t candy only a handful of walnuts, and who would eat the rest, especially since they only keep for about two weeks? Possibly Keith would have a few, but he certainly wouldn’t eat them all. Wouldn’t it be weird to bring an almost-stale batch of candied nuts to work? Or to a friend’s house? Or to book club? Anyway.) Beth opted for the curried chutney chicken salad and I went for the grilled steak Cobb because, in all honesty, is it even possible to resist the combination of avocados and bacon? I know I can’t.

steak-cobb-salad-2.jpgMy salad was nicely composed, with each ingredient was in its own separate quadrant of the plate. Though I thought it looked pretty, I knew that to eat it I would have to plow through and decimate the entire thing. In spite of that, it was, all in all, a really good salad: tangy bleu cheese, flawlessly creamy avocado, crunchy lettuce, crisp bacon, and bright red tomatoes to round it all off. The only element that I found lacking was the steak, unfortunate since I specifically ordered the salad for the beef, something I had been craving. It was rubbery and difficult to cut; when I took my first bite, I looked up at Beth and said, “There’s something familiar about this but I don’t know what.” As I chewed, I realized what it was — it tasted faintly of hot dogs. It so happens I have a special fondness for hot dogs, but that doesn’t change the fact that I didn’t particularly want my steak to remind me of them. If that wasn’t disappointing enough, the steak was visibly on the rare end of the spectrum. Again, I happen to like my steak rarer than most, so it didn’t bother me as much as it would others, but it wasn’t pleasant to eat. Or easy to chew. Beth’s curried chicken salad, however, was full of flavor, and the unexpected sweetness of the chutney was wonderful.

lemon-butter-crepe-2.jpgWhen we ordered our salads, Beth had a flash of genius and ordered a dessert crepe for us to share. After all, who doesn’t love a crepe? In my mind, it’s one for those rare items whose novelty never fades. We need more creperies, I think, or at least crepe-selling street vendors, like in Paris. (Though I do think that, in the grand scheme of things, everything should be more like Paris.) Beth chose the lemon-butter, just about an ideal flavor combination, in my opinion. Sweet and vaguely tart with the satisfying, mild resistance of the crepe itself, it was a great finish to our meal. After a while, the melted butter began to set a bit, which might sound genuinely disgusting, but we happily ran the fruit through it. Nothing like some congealed lemony-butter to liven up an ordinary red grape, don’t you think?

Z Square
14 JFK Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138

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About That Last Post…

I’ve been thinking it over, and I’ve come to the following realization: I really don’t think that photographing each course and writing about it is for me.

Firstly, there were so many aspects of Saturday evening that I wanted to share but didn’t, simply because the post was already so damn long.

Secondly, I didn’t find it fun at all to write!

Thirdly, there are so many great sites out there that do exactly this, not to mention a plethora of writers who do a far better job and take far superior photographs — though I wonder how many were using their mother’s mother’s confusing camera from Hong Kong… Check out these four who went to WD-50 within the past three months and ate similar, if not practically identical, meals: Steve Plotnicki, Mike Czyzewski, Crow and Tina Wong.

So. Though it was an interesting exercise and while I will obviously continue writing about dining out, I seriously doubt I’ll do a photo play-by-play again. Unless I eat something really crazy, or someone requests it.

Dinner at wd-50.

This past Saturday, Joann, Keith and I went to dinner at wd-50 on New York’s Lower East Side. We had been planning it for a while, since we’re forever talking about the miscellaneous restaurants and cuisines we want to try. We decided on Wylie Dufresne’s place; it would be interesting, it wouldn’t be as pricey as some of the other locations we had been tossing around and, most importantly, we could get reservations for a Saturday night. Granted, we booked our table almost a month in advance…

Things got off a bit oddly; we were punctual and seated right away, but our waitress — one of our many servers over the course of the night — approached our table just as Keith was standing to excuse himself. She tried to take our order right then and there, while Keith was hovering and he had to send her away. Maybe this wasn’t such a big deal, but I thought it added an unnecessary awkwardness to the meal, especially because it took place right at the start.

The three of us had agreed ahead of time that we would all get the tasting menu, but would pair it with wines of our own choosing. We each started off with a glass of sparkling Gruner Veltliner and followed it up with a bottle of Sancerre Roc L’Abbaye. The Gruner Velt was really nice, but I particularly liked the Sancerre — more about it in a later post though, because this one is going to be quite long, I think.

sesame-crisps.jpg The first item to arrive at the table were sesame crisps, which wd-50 serves in lieu of bread. Personally, I enjoy a bread basket since I have an ardent love for bread, but these crisps did not make me miss bread at all. Paper-thin and savory, these sesame-speckled crisps were ridiculously addictive. We went through two boxes of them — they arrived in a rectangular wooden box — and when I say “we” I mean “me,” as it was my hand that kept creeping back to snap off larger and larger pieces. My placemat was littered with crumbs. Joann rightfully noticed that the sheerer and thinner crisps had a more pervasive and rich taste, almost buttery, but honestly, I didn’t care. I just wanted to eat them all up. Which I practically did.

amuse-bouche.jpgAmuse bouche of king oyster noodles, pomegranate and purple cabbage. Aesthetically appealing enough, not that you can tell from my terrible picture here. My camera is still MIA, so I borrowed my mother’s, which she acquired from her mother, who purchased it in Hong Kong. I could not for the life of me figure out how to make it work properly, so I apologize for the quality of the photographs. That said, in the case of the amuse, it does not matter in the least, because I thought it was entirely forgettable. I’m sure it tasted lovely, and though my photodocumentation is terribly lacking, I can’t remember a blessed thing about it. Maybe I was just too flustered with the machinery of the foreign camera to appreciate the shavings of pomegranate piled delicately atop — atop what? I don’t remember.

pizza-pebbles-2.jpg This dish was described on the very minimal menu as “pizza pebbles, pepperoni, shiitake.” (There were no puffy or superfluous description-inflating wordage here; it was just ingredients, barring hydrocolloid gums.) The pebbles were literally made up of miscellaneous flavored powders, except for what in the picture looks like little black chips, which are dried shiitake slices. Joann described the pebbles as such: “They taste like Combos!” I’m sorry to say that she got the taste dead-on; I was looking for something really exceptional, but is something familiar a bad thing? The texture was what made the pebbles truly special — an extra-fine and silky powder that was surprisingly soft in the mouth… and intensely flavored of Combos.

knot-foie-1.jpgI was especially looking forward to this, what the menu called “knot foie,” because I love liver almost as much as I love bread. This malleable thread of foie gras was just the ticket for me, though I was a little nervous about the daubs of kimchi speckled around the knot and the plate. The foie was just as smooth and as decadent as I hoped, but with a little added snap, for lack of a better word. Here’s what I mean: when Keith, lovely man that he is, offered me some of his knot, I sliced a portion off and speared it with my fork; it lifted cleanly off of the plate, without smearing. Whatever Chef had added to the foie had lightly encased it, almost, so that the creaminess of the foie was contained within itself.

hamachi.jpg Here we have “hamachi tartare, wakame, sake lees tahini, grapefruit shallot.” Hopefully someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the dark beads on the left side of the plate is the wakame, a type of seaweed. What I can tell you for with absolute certainty that this was fantastically delicious. The hamachi — which, a la distance, looked like a solid piece of fish — was actually comprised of several shards of fish that were somehow held together to make these larger rectangles. The matchsticks of Asian pear that rested on the hamachi were so flavorful, and the tahini droplet was a less intense but still amazingly nutty version of your typical tahini, tempered by the sweetness of the pear. The mound of perfectly minced grapefruit was also tasty, but only when eaten in conjunction with another element from the plate. On its own, it was gravely sour.

eggs-benedict-1.jpg When we went through the menu at the end of the night, Joann decided that this course of eggs Benedict was her absolute favorite. While it wasn’t mine, I can definitely see how she, or anyone, could go for this crazy dish. I’ve never understood the concept behind Canadian bacon (a sorry, sorry substitute for the real deal) but these crispy, crunchy, salty petals were the exception. The deep yellow chunks of yolk were also amazing: eggy, but not overly so. The undisputed star, though, was the hollandaise, which was not the yellow slick across the plate but rather the cubes that kind of look like geometric chicken nuggets. Like chicken nuggets, the hollandaise had been breaded… in English muffin dust. Not only that, Chef had devised a way to deep fry them. I wish that this dish had been served in triplicate; I accidentally pierced my first hollandaise cube and cut into the second, spilling hollandaise all over my plate. Had there been a third, I would have put it in my mouth whole, and held it there until the English muffin casing dissolved.

french-onion-soup-1.jpgFor me, the best part of this French onion soup was the caramelized onion smeared on top of the crunchy wafers. I might have liked the globules of gruyère more, had I not had something similar this past fall at the restaurant at Hacienda Benazuza, an el Bulli hotel. In effect, the cheese was liquefied and somehow suspended in a coating to keep it in its liquid state. If placed in the mouth, the teensiest bit of pressure breaks the casing, causing the cheese to explode. This is potentially very messy. Like the amuse that started the meal, the soup was sadly lackluster. The broth itself was quite disappointing; there was none of the robust flavor associated with a classic French onion soup. Generally speaking, I’m appreciative of anyone who attempts to put his or her own spin onto a classic, but this was a dud.

cuttlefish-2.jpgBoth Joann and I were counting down to the cuttlefish; it must be an Asian thing, as Keith couldn’t awaken the same frenzied enthusiasm. As with all of the dishes, we didn’t know what to expect, particularly with the menu’s description of “cuttlefish, squash, chamomile, orange, toast oil.” There was no point even trying to imagine in what form the cuttlefish would arrive, and there was no possible way that we would have guessed cubed. Cubed, along with segments of squash (I don’t remember what type) and served with a generous smudge of orange-zest purée. We were warned that the purée was bitter on its own, and to only eat it mixed with cuttlefish and squash, but the three of us scraped our bowls regardless. Zest or no, this was a truly enjoyable plate: sweet, salty and bitter — all at once.

lamb-belly-2.jpgKeith was looking forward to this (“lamb belly, black chickpea, cherried cucumber”) probably just as much as Joann and I were the cuttlefish. And like us, he was not let down. To go through the components… crispy, salty lamb “bacon;” a black chickpea hummus of sorts; blades of lemongrass. I was particularly thrilled with the lemongrass — just chalk it up there with liver and bread. This was the sort of dish that had me wishing I hadn’t ordered the tasting menu. I wanted more of it. I’m especially pleased with the photograph; I think it’s undoubtedly the best of the bunch.

mint-2.jpg If there was something on the menu that I was not looking forward to, it was certainly the first dessert course of “wintergreen parfait, walnut, avocado, chartreuse.” Of the ingredients, the one that made me draw back a bit was the wintergreen — my dislike of it probably comes from years of my dad foisting mint tea on me whenever I didn’t feel well. He picked the mint from our backyard and kept it in a cupboard next to the oven; I hated having to retrieve something from inside because of the smell. Admittedly, because of this, my first bite of this parfait made me cringe. The mint was so acute, but then the flavor mellowed in my mouth, and ultimately it tasted of a bright mint cheesecake.

coconut-2.jpgAnother one I was wary about — “toasted coconut cake, carob, smoked hazelnut, brown butter sorbet.” Though I love the richness associated with coconut, the texture can be so off-putting. My nervousness, in this case, was completely unfounded as this was one amazing coconut cake: warm and buttery, with an unbelievably satisfying density. The brown butter sorbet, while a nice compliment to the coconut, didn’t conjure up nearly as many urges to to sneak spoonfuls from Keith and Joann’s plates as the cake.

white-chocolate-1.jpgLet’s review: thus far we’ve established my love of bread, liver, lemongrass and cuttlefish. To that list we can add chocolates, since I’m fond of them as well. It wasn’t unreasonable for me to think that “soft white chocolate, potato, malt, white beer ice cream” and I would be a perfect match. I’m not quite certain why, but I wasn’t anywhere as gaga about this smooth chocolate snake as I would have foreseen. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that this followed a near-perfect dessert.

chickory-marshmallow-3.jpg Of the three of us, I’m the only one who can describe this fantastic finisher of “chicory ice cream-coffee.” Keith was hesitant to try this, especially after Joann and I explained the history of chicory as a coffee alternative, a clear turn-off to an anti-aficionado of coffee. In a burst of reverse-chivalry, Joann traded Keith her orange-dusted marshmallow for a second pleasantly-gritty lump of coffee-infused ice cream. I wasn’t half as noble-minded; I would have eaten both of their semi-sweet chunks as well as the citrusy mashmallows, had I been given the chance.

All in all, dinner was incredibly fun. I had to stop myself several times from clapping my hands and cackling with glee, two of my signature moves, though I might have given myself away more than once whenever a server placed a new plate in front of me. Or when our box of sesame crisps was replenished. Or when Keith offered to ask if we could give our compliments to the chef. (I wouldn’t let him. What would I say? I am so uncool.) Though there were some bumpy bits along the way, I would definitely return to wd-50 for another go at a different tasting menu. Anyone want to come along?

(P.S. Niki, the bathroom was very cool indeed. And the stalls came with instructions.)

50 Clinton Street
New York, New York 10002

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Make That Three at a Time.

I don’t know how this happened. Actually, that sentence is what is called a bald-faced lie, as I do actually know how this happened, this being the fact that I am now reading three books at once. The three books in question are, in the order in which I started reading them:

The reasons why I am reading this books are as follows:

  1. book club
  2. I have no idea, and
  3. because I haven’t read it in some time; I like to reread books; lately I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Steve, who was my writing teacher twice in college; and it just so happened that there was an excerpt in The Best Food Writing 2004, which I finished reading earlier in the month.

I got entangled in these three very dissimilar books because :

  1. About a year ago I started a book club as a way to potentially meet new people and potentially read books I wouldn’t normally have chosen myself, which is how I ended up getting a used copy of Arsonist’s and reading it on my commute to and from work. Now, Arsonist’s is still in hardcover; while it’s not necessarily long it is still quite substantial, so when Keith and I went down to New York two weeks ago, I left it behind. I didn’t want to pack both my laptop (light at five pounds, but still) and the hardcover (not that long, but still) in my handbag (quite roomy, but still), especially because I would need to schlep everything around on the subway, since we weren’t leaving until after work. Instead I packed the infinitely lighter Best Food Writing 2004 And so…
  2. …when we got home from New York, I was fully embroiled in the food anthology and although I knew I could stop reading at the end of whatever excerpt I was in the middle of, I finished the book. This would have been the prime time to return to Arsonist’s, which I hadn’t really been enjoying as much as I hoped, but instead I reached for Intuition, which I purchased on recommendation (Whose? I don’t remember.) with a gift card I received for Christmas. This is where things got a bit repetitive: Keith and I are going to New York again this weekend, and it just so happens that my copy of Intuition is a bulky hardcover (also purchased used, by the way), and I’m again bringing my laptop, and I’m madly in love with my roomy handbag, and I’m not enjoying Intuition as much as I had hoped…
  3. …which brings me to Candyfreak. Like Arsonist’s and Intuition, I’ve Steve’s book in hardcover. Unlike Arsonist’s and Intuition, it was purchased at full-price, brand-new. In addition, it’s considerably smaller, both dimension-wise and length-wise. Oh, and I’m enjoying it much, much more.

I’m hoping, upon our return from New York, that I’ll finish Candyfreak, if I haven’t already done so, then plow through Intuition, before revving myself up to get Arsonist’s out of the way on or by the twenty-seventh, when book club meets. Then again, I might just pick up something else.

Really Quickly…

my-mistresss-sparrow-is-dead.jpgToday is Valentine’s Day, something I’ve never been terribly into, but I’ve always enjoyed making the cards for it and other occasions. In fact, when I read My Life in France by Julia Child and her grand-nephew Alex Prud’Homme, I was so very excited to learn that Julia made valentines in lieu of holiday cards. This year, however, I didn’t plan well and, as a result, didn’t make any cards, even though I had come up with what I thought was a fantastic idea back in October. Oh well. BUT (and I don’t care that you shouldn’t start sentences with BUT) had I made the cards, I would have tried to draw, then would have ultimately given up trying to draw, then would have tried to find a detailed old-fashioned-y looking illustration of the human heart. I then would have printed it up on cream-colored paper, trimmed it down to size, then affixed it to sturdier blood-red paper. I had it, along with many other things, all planned out in my head. Imagine, then, my expression when I saw the cover of My Mistress’s Sparrow Is Dead, a collection of short stories edited by Jeffrey Eugenides. The art is very close to the valentine I had mentally mapped out, so guess what book has just jumped out of the ether, as they say, directly to the top of my reading list? After I finish the two I’m reading simultaneously, of course.

Eggs (and Meatballs).

eggs.jpg Last night I hard-boiled some eggs, which I planned to chop up and add to the salad I packed for lunch today. Along with the greens I’ve got some feta cheese, grape tomatoes and cut up turkey meatballs, which is what we had for dinner yesterday evening.

(Quickly, about meatballs: I didn’t grow up in a meatball-eating household, and therefore have never been much of a meatball-maker. In the past year or so, for whatever reason, I’ve found myself doing exactly that. I’ve tried three recipes thus far — beef, bacon and Parmesan; lamb, mint and feta; and turkey, parsley and scallion — all with what I think is a great deal of success. Last night’s meatballs needed breadcrumbs, as most meatballs seem to. I had some left over from a previous meal (I had toasted them with a little butter, black pepper and lemon juice and sprinkled them over cauliflower and broccoli) so I used those along with the regular whole wheat crumbs. Honestly, I couldn’t really taste the difference. Then again, I had cut up the meatballs to eat in a salad quite similar to what I’ll have for lunch today, except instead of feta, I melted some Leonora cheese (Spanish, goat) in the toaster oven and mixed it into the salad before adding a really basic dressing of lemon juice, lemon zest, rice vinegar and olive oil. Most likely the lemon from the vinaigrette masked the lemon from the breadcrumbs. Regardless… back to the eggs.)

My mother has the ideal vessels for hard-boiling eggs: the little metal ewers she uses to make Armenian coffee. She has them in multiple sizes, so she can make as much or as little coffee as she needs. The one she uses the most frequently (coffee for two) is perfect for boiling exactly one jumbo egg, which is the only size egg my very picky father likes to see in his fridge. I don’t have any ewers of any size, so I just used a boring old pot. I think I’ll see if I can swipe one of the lesser-used ewers this weekend, when I go to New York. There’s an especially pretty blue-and-white enameled one that I’ve always liked…

Here’s my favorite part of boiling eggs — fishing them out of the water, putting them into a bowl, and watching the water evaporate off of their shells. I can’t explain why I like it so much, but I will say that sometimes I splash more water onto them just to have a repeat viewing. It makes me think of being in the darkroom and of developer, seeing the tones in a photograph slowly emerge before grabbing the tongs and plunging the paper into the stop bath.

Anyway, I thought my eggs were particularly pretty this morning when I took them out of the fridge, and since I have no idea whatsoever as to the whereabouts of my camera, I caved and used my phone to photograph them. Hopefully this will not become a habit.