Lunch amongst the lucky ones

The four years I spent in Gainesville, Florida during college were filled with a lot of the same when it came to food: pizza (of the cheap, greasy, late night variety), burgers, pitas (Pita Pit what what!) and all manner of microwaved garbage when I ate at home.  So earlier this week, when I passed a large group of kids in Greenwich Village who I assumed were in town for NYU orientation (the purple “Class of 2018″ stickers gave them away…and also horrified me), I thought about how nice it must be for them to have so many amazing food options, manycontrary to popular beliefnot even that expensive.

Think of it as the burrito's Indian cousin.

Think of it as the burrito’s Indian cousin.

Case in point: the cheap and so very delicious lunch I had at The Kati Roll Company on MacDougal Street, in the thick of all things NYU.

Quick, easy and tasty, what's not to love?

Quick, easy and tasty, what’s not to love?

Kati rolls are an Indian street food of sorts, basically different meats, veggies and other fillings rolled into crepe like flatbreads called paratha. I ordered the unda shami roll, a delicious rolled up mix of minced lamb, lentil croquettes and a thin layer of beaten eggs. The paratha was thick enough to hold everything but light and soft in taste and texture, and didn’t take away from the heartier, spicy filling inside. The spices in the lamb and in the lentil croquettes made for bright, rich flavors and the egg was just enough to give it a softer, almost buttery flavor without making it taste like a full on breakfast wrap. (Though I might point out that I would gladly eat this for breakfast, lunch or dinner.)

If I could do college all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing (because crappy pizza aside, my days in Gainesville were some of my favorite) but man, would it have been nice to have delicious things like Cambodian sandwiches, Ukranian pierogis, italian bomboloni and now Indian kati rolls. I hope all these new kids in the city know just how good they have it.

 

The Kati Roll Company on Urbanspoon

Thai Market, daydreamed and real

When my newly married friends Vanessa and Jon recently honeymooned in Thailand, I went along with them. Well, not really, not physically in the third wheel sense (cause how awkward would that be?) but vicariously through the Instagram pictures Vanessa posted daily.

In my Thai reveries I lounge around deserted beaches, play with baby elephants and feel small before giant Buddha statues, just like my married friends did, but mostly in my daydreams, I roam around the food markets, eating all sorts of things. And because it’s a daydream and not real, nothing has a single calorie. (In the beach part of my daydream, I look damn good in my bikini.)

Vanessa’s street food stories, like the ones I read on another favorite blog, The Londoner, left me with not only more wanderlust than ever, but with a ravenous hunger for Thai food. So when I asked a friend for a lunch recommendation on the Upper West Side earlier this week and she suggested a place called Thai Market, it was just what I needed.

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Tom yum goong soup. Emphasis on the yum.

To start, I had the tom yum goong soup, a reddish-brown blend of tangy, zesty lemongrass, tamarind, juicy shrimp, and plump, soft mushrooms.  It was colorful and warming, with just enough spicy heat to give my tongue a tingly little prickle without breaking out into full on nose sweats.

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Pad kee mao… that means give me more, right?

After it, at the server’s suggestion, I ordered the pad kee mao, large, flat rice noodles with tender strips of chicken, Thai basil, chili, tomato and bok choi. It wasn’t crazy hot but this time I definitely had to guzzle cold water throughout eating it. The flavors, like the colors of the different ingredients, were bold and bright, with chunks of bright green peppers, juicy tomatoes and red swirls of chili oil all mixing around in the most delicious way.

The restaurant’s overall look is supposed to transport you to Thailand, with giant photos of markets as a backdrop, along with Thai street signs and large red umbrellas that kind of make you feel like you’re outside. I popped in for lunch, and while I don’t doubt that the food sold by street vendors and at markets is way better and cheaper, Thai Market’s $8 lunch special makes it a pretty good alternative for being on the UWS.

Thai Market on Urbanspoon

Mission: perfect burrito

I’m not sure how I’m ever supposed to eat burritos again, not after the absolute-perfection-in-burrito-form I had for lunch today.

All other burritos will live in the shadow of the delicious one I had at Danny Bowien’s California style taqueria, Mission Cantina, in the Lower East Side, not far from his short-lived (but hopefully soon to be resurrected) Mission Chinese Food.

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Mission Cantina’s carne asada burrito

Before bringing his restaurants to New York, Danny Bowien was a big deal in San Francisco, where phenomenal tacos and burritos are easy to find, and clearly he picked up a thing or two and brought it to the east coast, cause the burrito I had today was a 10 clear across the board.

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So much awesome in just one handful

For starters, instead of being filled with tons of gut-filling rice, sad wilted lettuce and mushy tomatoes, this bad boy (easily shareable between two people if you don’t have a the bottomless pit of a stomach that I do) was stuffed, generously and evenly throughout, with  carne asada, beans, guacamole, crema, queso blanco and salsa fresca. The carne asada, which I went with on the server’s recommendation (other choices were lamb, carnitas, fried skate, veggie, chicken and al pastor) was oh-so-soft and juicy, tender and full of flavor. The guacamole lent a creamy freshness to balance the hearty, rich beans, and the cheese did what it always does, made everything better. It was a wonderfully messy, saucy affair with juices running down my hands and my cloth napkin working overtime, and I loved every minute of it.

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Even the chips are delicious!

The tortilla which let’s be honest, no one ever cares about was more than just a vessel for burrito goodness. Tortillas are made in house, and it shows, because instead of being bland and rubbery, this one actually tasted like something you’d want to finish, or to use as a sponge for all of the burrito juice run off. And to really push itself into the realm of greatness, the tortilla had a slight golden crisp to it, from where the burrito had been lightly seared for a perfect finish.The burrito alone was enough to make me an instant fan but Mission Cantina really sealed the deal with its accompanying tortilla chips. Usually an afterthought or distraction, these were anything but. Each one was thick and crunchy, fried in house and dusted in a punchy, colorful blend of spices that made it impossible not to each every last crumb of them. Two salsas, a tangy, avocado filled green sauce and a thicker, smoky red one were served with them, but almost not necessary because of how good they were on their own.

Burritos of New York, I’m not sure things will ever be the between us. Mission Cantina, I’m all yours.

Mission Cantina on Urbanspoon

Saltie state of mind

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The Captain’s Daughter

My mind’s been elsewhere recently, and until this afternoon, I wasn’t really sure where that was. I thought it might’ve run away in light of my recent apartment drama (yup, my roommate and I are moving. Again.) or maybe checked out after my latest pseudo romance turned out to be another dead end (cue the T-Swift playlist), or possibly just felt drained from the House of Cards binge I’ve subjected it to (woa, season 2, WOA).

Likely, it was all of those things and more that drove it away, but today at lunch, the second I bit into a beautiful, sloppy sandwich at Saltie, I figured out where it had been all along: on a seaside vacation.

The way a certain smell or song can trigger a specific memory, so can certain foods, or more specifically flavors, just as easily conjure a place in my mind. Today, as I chomped away on a lemony, garden-worth of arugula, plump, juicy sardines, briny capers, creamy slices of pickled eggs and a zesty smear of salsa verde, all between thick, golden focaccia flecked with sea salt, my mind immediately went to a sunny day on a coastal town somewhere.

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A tasty mess

The carefree ease I felt while eating (and making a mess out of) that sandwich, listed at Saltie as the Captain’s Daughter, made me think that’s where my mind’s been all along. Maybe it wasn’t a lazy beach getaway that my mind took. Maybe it’s just been hanging out at a small sandwich shop in Williamsburg this whole time. Either way it’s good to know where I can turn to get my head and my stomachand consequently my heart on the same page.

Really, I should’ve known a great sandwich would’ve made everything better all along.

Saltie on Urbanspoon
 

Bodega Finds

Ah, Half Baked. One of my favorite movies of all time.

Ah, Half Baked. One of my favorite movies of all time.

Living in New York can be a pain in the ass and every one of us that lives here has a million things to bitch about, but if there’s one distinctly New York thing I’m actually thankful for it’s bodegas.

That’s right, bodegas. Convenience or corner stores for those of you that don’t live in this zoo.  You can find them on almost every block in every neighborhood in this city and if you’re ever in a pinch— be it for ice cream, dishwashing soap, condoms, or any other random thing— you can almost always just run down the street and they’ll have what you need.

Sometimes, they even surprise you with things you didn’t realize you needed but then wonder how you lived without them. That’s what’s happened to me anyway the last few times I’ve popped into one of the million bodegas in my neighborhood.

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I already love Ritters, and then they went and made a coconut macaroon type. Ah-mazing.

Take this Ritter Sport, coconut macaroon holiday edition, for example. I originally stopped in for coffee but walked out with a delicious chocolate bar that I hadn’t seen anywhere else and made my crappy, cold morning precisely a thousand times better.

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I gotta tell you, this cookie on cookie action works for me.

Then there was the time last week when I ran into a bodega to use the ATM and spotted these insane Oreos with chocolate chip cookie dough flavored creme. What?! How do you pass those? You don’t. You buy them and you take them home and you devour them with your roommate. Happiness ensues.

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I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for gimmicky M&M’s.

And then there was the recent time when said roommate and I ran to the nearest bodega for bottles of water to squash our awful hangovers, when we spotted these at the register: birthday cake M&M’s. I mean, really, it’s like each one is filled with a core of chocolaty deliciousness, happiness and sunshine.

So thank you bodegas of New York. Sometimes you’re weird, sometimes your clerks are creepy, and sometimes I’m convinced you’re just fronts for God knows what kind of illegal activity. But most of the time you just have exactly what I need exactly when I don’t even know I need it. And for that, I thank you.

Break out the Kookies!

Fashion Week is over, you guys!

Ding dong the witch is dead, the witch is dead, the witch is dead! Ding dong the evil witch is dead!

Uhm, sorry, I don’t know what just happened there. Things got weird. I apologize. It’s just that Fashion Week’s always the busiest time of year at the hotel and everyone gets all crazy and needy and stressed out and I hate it. So yea, I’m glad it’s over. All you impossibly thin, painfully cool people that come out during Fashion Week, all of you can just see your way out.

Unlike Karlie, these cookies aren't really lookers but damn are they good anyway!

Unlike Karlie, these cookies aren’t really lookers but damn are they good anyway!

Except for one. Karlie Kloss. She can stay. Not because she’s a model, not because she looks super cool and down to earth, and certainly not because she has the body and proportions I would’ve been born with in a perfect world. Nope, Karlie can stay because she teamed up with Momofuku Milk Bar to make Karlie’s Kookies, an awesome line of delicious and not the-worst-possible-thing-you-could-put-in-your-body cookies.

There’s a couple different kinds but I recently had the 5Boro Kookie,  which despite being dairy free, gluten free, and having no added sugar, was actually pretty freakin’ fantastic.

Made with cocoa powder, almond flour, coconut purée, pineapple juice, chocolate chips, water, baking powder, cornstarch and salt, the 5Boro was dark and rich, with the slightest sweet tang and a moist, chocolateyness that made me want to eat ten more in rapid succession.

And if all of that wasn’t enough to convince you, a portion of the proceeds from Karlie’s Kookies goes to charity. Pssshh, as if I needed a single other reason to celebrate the end of Fashion Week.

Yes, this is about a salad

The makings of a damn fine salad.

The makings of a damn fine salad.

Folks, I’m happy to report that I’m alive and well. Not only because I survived going vegan for a month but also because I managed to not overdose on mountains of bacon and cheese on February 1st, my first day back to non-vegan eating. (Maybe I’m finally getting a hang of this whole self-control thing. Doubtful, though.)

Even though I’m back to the dairy wonderland that is my life, I’ll be keeping a few of the things I picked up during my brief stint as a vegan. Tofu cream cheese for, example, and veggie breakfast sausages are sticking around, as is hopefully the Spicy Sabzi from trendy salad chain, Sweetgreen.

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The Spicy Sabzi, mmm mmm mmm!

I know what you’re thinking. A salad? Really? Yes, really. The Spicy Sabzi, a colorful, delicious and actually filling beauty of baby spinach and kale with spicy quinoa, spicy broccoli, carrots, raw beets, basil, sprouts and roasted tofu, is no freakin’ joke. Dressed with a carrot chili vinaigrette and a squeeze of one of my favorites ever, sriracha sauce, this salad is something I’d gladly eat again and again. It’s chunky, spicy, zesty and full of great tasting and great-for-you ingredients. What’s not to love?

My one concern was that because Sweetgreen’s only New York location was in a part of town that I don’t typically find myself in often I probably wouldn’t be eating there that much, but then I read  that another Sweetgreen is on its way to Brooklyn, not far from me, so it looks like there are definitely more Spicy Sabzis in my future. Vegan or not, I’m looking forward to that.

So I like veggie burgers

As much as I love a big ol’, juicy, meaty burger (and you should I know I love it a lot), I’m also and have been since way before this whole vegan challenge of mine a big fan of veggie burgers. I don’t equate one with the other but love them both separately. Sometimes I want a good burger, and sometimes I just want a solid veggie burger. That’s just how it is.

I’ve had some made from tofu, great ones out of black beans,  and others with actual chopped up veggies, but never until a few days ago, when I had the forbidden rice burger at Ni Japanese Delicacies in the Essex Street Market, had I eaten one made out of rice.

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The tasty rice burger at Ni Japanese Delicacies 

Ni is a small place, really a tiny, walk up counter of vegan and vegetarian Japanese inspired bites and drinks. Their veggie burger, which usually comes on a brioche but can be replaced with vegan sprouted bread, has a “patty” of Asian black rice, maitake mushrooms, carrots, and kale and comes topped with baby arugula, pickled sweet peppers and vegan herb mayo.

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No meat here, fake or otherwise.

This rice burger I’m sure without a doubt is better on the brioche, but even on the vegan-friendly sprouted bread, it was pretty good. The problem with a lot of veggie burgers is that they end up dry or crumbly, but Ni’s rice wasn’t either of those. It was soft and just moist enough to not be a dry ball of rice, and had a good, earthy delicious flavor. The pickled sweet peppers and the baby arugula added a little variety in the way of texture and veggie flavors.

All around meatless deliciousness, and something I’ll definitely be coming back to when I just want a veggie burger.

I miss cheese

Smitten Kitchen's beautiful and delicious hunks of parmesan, ready for her parmesan, kale and bean soup. I'm eating NONE of it.

Smitten Kitchen’s beautiful photo of delicious hunks of parmesan, ready for her parmesan, kale and bean soup. I’m eating NONE of it. (Cue the tears.)

It’s the 15th of the month, the halfway point of my vegan challenge.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll admit I did have one teeny tiny little bit of a slip-up the other night when my coworkers and I had dinner at the always delicious ABC Kitchen, where everything with the exception of about two sides, includes something non-vegan. There was no getting around it. I had to eat cheese, and some butter, and some cream. But I didn’t eat anything that used to have a face, so that counts for something, right?

Minor relapse aside, I’ve been a good little vegan. I haven’t been craving meat (not even bacon, really), daydreaming about ice cream or had the hankering for eggs that my roommate has been struggling with.

But dear, sweet, 8-pound, milk-loving baby Jesus do I miss cheese. Ugh, it kills me. Pecorino, cheddar, camembert, freakin’ Trader Joe’s light string cheese! I want them all. Alas, I’ll fight the urge. I’ll be strong. I won’t eat any more cheese for the rest of the month. But you better believe when February rolls around, me and cheese are getting back together, in a big way.

In the meantime,  here are some cheese related posts from the interwebs. Hope they make your heart all aflutter, like they did mine:

  • A caprese salad from Emiko Davies that almost makes me wish it was summer.
  • Cup of Jo’s skillet lasagna, because mascarpone and mozzarella are the stuff dreams are made of.

No bacon, eggs or cheese here but it’s OK

With the exception of New Year’s Day, when I woke up with an outrageous, crippling hangover and wanted nothing more than to eat all of the bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches in New York City, being a vegan hasn’t been that bad.

I’m on day twelve of my month long challenge  and not once in those twelve days have I cheated, fantasized about dairy (that much), or directed malicious thoughts toward people eating non-vegan things. (Although, confession time: having to order vegetarian meatloaf at a chicken-and-waffles joint sucked… especially when my friend’s fried chicken smelled like God himself.)
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Just as great tasting as it is looking, I swear

One of the good things about living in New York though, and more specifically Brooklyn, is that being vegan doesn’t have to suck. I mean, it’s not ideal (life without bacon cheeseburgers just can’t be ideal), but it’s not the worst thing ever, either. A couple mornings ago, for example, I found myself at Brooklyn Standard, my favorite Greenpoint deli, looking for a big breakfast to hunker down in bed with while binge watching Downton Abbey. (It was my day off and the weather was rating pretty high on the shitty winter weather scale, so yea, those were my plans.)
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What a beaut.

And that’s when I saw it: the Cali Bagel with the magic v word in parenthesis: tofu cream cheese, tempeh sausage, oven-dried cherry tomatoes, jalapeños, and basil. Slap all that on an everything bagel and you’re looking at a pretty happy fake vegan.

First of all, let me say this: I was ready to hate tofu cream cheese. As a serious lover of real cream cheese, I didn’t think I had it in me to love an imposter, but I did. I loved how creamy and smooth it was, and how it just melted and oozed all over my toasted bagel. The tempeh sausage, while not as delicious as the real deal, was good and had a nice, sausagey consistency and flavor. The cherry tomatoes were juicy and bright and the jalapeños added a perfect hint of tangy spiciness.

Being a vegan for another 20 or so days shouldn’t be too hard if I have this bad boy just down the block.