Archive for the ‘Dining Out’ Category

A Colombian Lunch in Two Parts

Mazorca in Colombia (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Part I

When we pulled into the parking lot, the place was already swarming. It was a Sunday, and it seemed as if half the city had flocked to the northern outskirts to eat themselves into a gut-busting stupor. We wound through the open-air building, packed with rickety wooden tables and plastic chairs, all full of families grabbing food off large silver trays piled with glistening cuts of meat and puffed up whorls of chicharrón, potatoes and flat white mounds of yuca. A happy clamor drifted across the simple concrete floor and low walls, mingling with the smoky scent of barbequing beef.

Once we’d snagged a table nestled in the very back of the long hall, we divided – half our group to hold our spot, the other to order food and wrestle the trays through the crowd. The wait seemed everlasting. It was already edging past 3 p.m., and my stomach was growling, the morning’s arepa and scrambled eggs feeling frighteningly distant. I worried the salt shaker between my fingers, wondering if a few grains might sharpen or dull the pangs, when David’s dad swooped to the table bearing a basket of grilled corn on the cob, thick yellow pearls scrubbed with black char, butter, and salt. Mazorca. The kernels were sweet and slightly powdery, almost popcorn-like. He also set down a pitcher of refajo, a mix of pale Aguila beer with sweet Colombiana soda, and we poured a round into our small plastic cups.

Colombian picada (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Arepas de choclo (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

And then, like an answered prayer, the food was there. Soup, slightly thickened and a little bitter with herbs, with tender strands of chicken and a few vegetables – just enough to whet your appetite for the giant tray heaped with fist-sized cuts of beef, charred from an open flame and dripping with juices. » Continue reading this post…

Like Eating Clouds: Hummus Tehina

Hummus tahina recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

All I can think about is the next time I will be in Tel Aviv, how I will walk along the hot stone streets where discount boutiques spill hangers of fur vests and dresses and leather onto the cracked asphalt, and how I will walk until my feet are sore and I can smell the salt in the air, the crackled breath of exhaling fish and sea scum, almost hear the bustle of the Port of Jaffa just around an invisible bend, and I will wait at the little window of the hummuseria, hands palming the worn counter, until a short, bald man pauses in between tying up plastic bags of hummus tubs and shouting orders and talking to a regular leaning in the doorway. I will order musabaha and take it down to the sunny bench in the roundabout, and as cars whisk past, unpack my plastic bag and lay its contents out like offerings on an altar: musabaha, green chilies in lemon juice and water, two warm, plush pitas scarred with char, raw white onion quartered and beading in the sun, a film of paper-thin skin clinging to its curve. And then I will eat. I will streak tears of pita through the silky mass of tahini, lemon, garlic, and chickpea, catching drops of golden olive oil and spice, flecks of flat-leaf parsley and paprika, and whole chickpeas. And then I will chase it all with a crunch of raw onion I know I will regret a few hours later, when my tongue is swollen and my mouth tight and stale.

But it won’t be in a few hours, it will be now, and I won’t care about consequences, just the gentle swipe of pita, the feel of satin in my mouth. Like eating clouds, said the friend of a friend who said Abu Hassan was the place to go. » Continue reading this post…

Eating Berlin Part 3 – Full Belly, Full Heart

Rain in Berlin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

When I first moved to Berlin, I was convinced I wanted to live near Schlesisches Tor, or “Schlesi,” as Berliners refer to it, because let’s face it, “Schlesisches Tor” is just too damn hard to say. It reminded me of Brooklyn, with its graffiti-smeared walls, tufts of litter skipping the breeze, and pretty hipsters swathed in black. Like the first German settlers who saw in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania a home away from home, I was completing the circle. So to speak.

At first, all my favorite restaurants, bars, and clubs were here. When friends came to visit, I’d always take them across the iconic Oberbaum Bridge and along the East Side Gallery. In summer, I’d sit in Görlizter Park drinking cold Club-Mate and maybe grilling a brat or two.

But slowly, as these things happen, my circle of city widened, then shifted. Who I was in Brooklyn was no longer who I was here.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about cities and identities. We’re just finishing up production on Issue 11 of SAND, and many of the poems and stories explore the idea of identity – how its shaped and how we define it. Berlin plays a key role in the issue, and as I was writing the editor’s note, I thought about what makes Berlin Berlin and how much that’s come to influence who I am.

At the corner of Görlitzer Park, there’s a little stand called Hühnerhaus 36 that sells chickens and half chickens from a roasting spit where the seasoning-spiked grease from the top row of chickens drips down to the bottom. You can order a menu with fries or salad, but if you’re already getting a greasy half-chicken with perfect, crisp skin, you might as well go whole hog and order the fries dashed with seasoned salt and served with ketchup and mayonnaise. » Continue reading this post…

Eating Berlin Part 2 – Owning It

Burgers from Schiller Burger (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My mom always told me that Hasenheide was a dangerous place. And it can be. Like many parks in Berlin, there’s an active, obvious drug trade that’s only a little annoying by day, but a little frightening at night. (It’s kind of like taking candy from strangers, isn’t it?) So for a long time, I didn’t go there. It didn’t help, of course, that when I moved to Berlin, the nearest entrance to the Hasenheide was along a rather desolate stretch of street that made the park seem doubly foreboding. I lived in Berlin for two whole years before stepping foot inside the park, I tell Jordi, as we walk through it, and as someone offers to sell us pot.

Today is a rather grim day, the sun hiding behind rain-heavy clouds, though we’re just nearing lunch time, and even in winter Berlin, the sun hasn’t set yet. The sloping hills of Hasenheide and its hidden green inlets are visible between the stark trunks of stripped trees. We’ve cut through the park because it’s the fastest way to get from Soluna Brot und Öl in Kreuzberg, the last stop on our Berlin food tour, to Schiller Burger in Neukölln, the next. We’re finding the park surprisingly big, but also beautiful in its slick bleak wetness.

I’m thinking about how places become yours in cities, as we walk through a park that’s bordered two of my past neighborhoods without ever becoming mine. You discover some places by accident, others are recommended by friends. Some places you really like, you never return to. Others you didn’t feel much for at first, you find yourself in again and again.

Schiller Burger was a staple of my life in Neukölln, especially on lazy weekends, when David and I would interrupt a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air marathon only to walk up the hill from Rathaus Neukölln past Spätis and junk shops and old German dive bars with lace curtains on the windows like someone’s dark, faded living room. » Continue reading this post…

Woo Me With Roses and Roast Pigeon

St. John's wine, London (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It’s not hard to make me fall in love. For those of you who are trying, here are a few tips. Buy me a set of copper saucepans. Preferably from Paris. Preferably antique. Know that I only ever drink cappuccinos, and order them for me when we go out. Bring me gifts of strangely-shaped fruits – like baby pears or blue melons or something with an unpronounceable name in a language neither you nor I can understand. Or, take me on a weekend jaunt to London to eat at St. John’s, and there, ply me with brains and liver, bone marrow, goat’s curd, and other things I’ve never tried.

Oh, St. John’s. Oh, Fergus Henderson. The man who changed my life with a piece of pork belly.

This is my second trip to St. John’s, the first being almost a year ago exactly. And though this isn’t the Smithfield outpost, rather the newer one in Spittlefield, and though there isn’t bone marrow and parsley salad on this menu, I feel both giddy and supremely content at the same time.

I’m here with Ambrice and her parents. We’re sitting at a corner table, getting cozy with a bottle of chardonnay. Our meal comes out in hiccups – cold lamb’s tongue salad with arugula and herb-soaked breadcrumbs, foie gras on toast, cauliflower and chickpea salad dribbled with spicy mustard, goat curd with caramelized onions and mint on giant slabs of bread. We sop up the sauces with freshly baked sourdough crusts.

It’s sitting here that I am reminded, once again, of how lucky I am to have the people in my life that I do, how I can’t wait to see where we go. » Continue reading this post…

Pilgrimage

Bone marrow and parsley salad (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I stopped speaking. I vaguely heard the man beside me rant about the Americans as my friends gossiped about mutual acquaintances and all around in the rest of the restaurant was the low hum of conversations, women laughing, sniffs at swilled glasses of port, the rustle of waiter’s whites as they brushed between tables and the open kitchen at the back. But for me there was nothing but toast spread with bone marrow, pungent sea salt burning my lips, vinegary parsley salad cut with capers and paper-thin slivers of garlic. My mouth smeared with grease.

This was heaven. This was the silly smile of kissing, the quiet of vacation mornings on the beach. Bone marrow and parsley salad at St. John’s Restaurant in London, my own nirvana.

Fergus Henderson’s restaurant is on the tip of one of those winding London streets that fork abruptly into other cobbled lanes, overshadowed by low-storied buildings that lean precariously over street lamps and clustered packs of suited, smoking office workers. Inside, warm lights glint off steel trim, the décor is simple and white, the floors stone. The waiters are attentive – coats are hung, dropped scarves quickly scooped from the floor, chairs pulled out, menus discreetly slipped onto the tablecloth.

We set our shopping bags under the table, slipped into the silk of quiet conversation, took sips of syrah, spread thick smears of butter on bread. Already the atmosphere of the restaurant, casual yet completely elegant, impressed itself into our attitudes, and we sat with the sensual, fluid postures of posh and wealthy women. Not that that’s not what we were.

The food was unassumingly described. Ox tongue and chips. Pigeon and beetroot. I told my waiter I was deciding between those two things; he said, well, the pigeon was a really lovely gamey bird, perfect if I liked gamey meat, but the ox tongue, oh, the ox tongue was nice. » Continue reading this post…

Resolutions and Assorted Thoughts on Salt and Things

Chipped venison (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It’s been a minute. I’ve missed you. I never told you about Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Years and all the magnificent food I cooked and holiday observations I made. I didn’t write about the Greek Meatballs or the Fancy Vegas Dinner, the Skirmish with Lamb Marrow, or the Million Clove Dinner Party. I took a few pictures, but not enough. I let my errands run me. But now I find myself wedged into a MegaBus seat with no WiFi, my copy of Fear and Loathing (plus commentary) finished, fifteen minute nap done (and besides, I told myself I wouldn’t nap this time), and I think it’s time to write a little. It’s part of my New Years Resolution, I guess – to write more. That, and to actually remove the makeup from my face before I go to bed, keep my toenails painted, and use my Crockpot more often. And to be generally nicer.

I’m on my way back to New York from a weekend visiting one of my oldest friends (by which I mean, we have been friends since the age of four) in State College, PA. It’s a snowy drive, and the big windows are streaked with salt spray, which makes the view grim. I feel especially sorry for the people who have been riding this WiFi-less bus since Pittsburgh.

Although it looks, at least, like everyone else’s seat reclines.

We’re pulling into a travel station, and I’m tempted to get a hot dog. Nothing as extravagant, of course, as the hot dogs my friend said she used to get at Hoss’, where they’d carve her name into the unlucky wiener. These are weird moods of mine.

It could be being back in Pennsylvania, where, growing up, a special meal out was at Applebee’s and something super fancy got celebrated at the Olive Garden. » Continue reading this post…

Eating Blind

unsicht-Bar (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I have developed an irrational fear of flying. It’s impractical. Its source is unknown. But there it is. I have become the person that grips the edges of the seat and dons a horrified expression at a hint of turbulence. I am the one frantically slinging back seltzer and wishing I knew a good Hail Mary.

I’m in a plane now, and I’m thinking back to the other times in life where I have been as paralyzed. Once, on the Appalachian Trail, caught in a raging lighting storm coming off the Blackstack Cliffs, shaking in lightning position, crouched low on one foot and singing the chorus to Amazing Grace over and over again, feeling hailstones hit my back. Once, flying through terrible winds, the plane plummeting and soaring like a whipped rag, with three failed landings. And once, eating at unsicht-Bar, the blind restaurant in Berlin.

What all of these experiences have in common is the sort of fear that grips the bottom of your stomach and wriggles up through your chest, shortens your breath, makes you know a panic attack is just around the corner. And there is helplessness. You are not in control.

unsicht-Bar is fashioned around the concept of blindness. Diners eat a four course meal in complete blackness, and the restaurant is staffed entirely by the blind. In the marble lobby, on plush lounge chairs surrounded by candlelight, you are given a menu whose dishes include such enigmatic delicacies as “The Frisian nobility is on fire and looking for acquaintanceship with the French underworld to practice love things.” It’s charming. We thought eating blind would be fun.

After making our dinner choices, we were introduced to our waiter, Harald. Harald instructed us to grab on to the shoulders of the person standing in front of us. I watched my mother grab on to Harald and Elisabeth grab on to my mother. » Continue reading this post…