Saturday: Follow that Roving School of Goldfish (aka the “Observations from the Art Fest in DUMBO” Post)

photoOne of the tenets of the BLD Project is that it isn’t just a blog about eating (although that certainly happens a lot). It’s also about how we get there, the decisions, the factors that influence us, along the way.

So I loved stumbling across installations at the Under the Bridge Festival in DUMBO on Saturday — one of my favorite annual cultural events in the city — that directly and indirectly addressed the decisions we make on a daily basis about what to eat.

photo-1In the Gemini Corporation’s short film, “Barter,” which screened continuously inside The Cardboard Gallery, an alternative art space made of recycled cardboard, residents of a small Eastern European village bartered for artworks with food. “For this one I would give 40 kilos of potatoes,” says one man.

photo-2Elsewhere, Reina Kubota’s The Tree of Life installation transformed plastic take-away bags into bulbous, blooming sculptural works. I interpreted it as both an overt commentary on consumption (too much), and on New York’s unique food culture (fact: we eat out a lot).

Down the road, while festival-goers nursed pints and took the chill out of their bones, Ernest Concepcion & Mike Estabrook, who make up the collective called The Shining Mantis, worked diligently in the background at a local bar, tag-team drawing the photo-3stunning chalk-on-wall mural, Kangarok X: This Time, It’s Sorta Like Risk.

The bar wasn’t originally going to be the site for the mural, but it was such a perfect fit: Punchy, poppy, a social work to begin with — it feels right at home among the low clamor of festival-goers discussing the highlights of the day.

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Friday: $5 Sandwiches, You Say? Alright, I’ll Bite (aka the “Sandwich Exchange Gamble” Post)

photoI generally hate when people shove flyers, etc., at me when I’m just coming up from the subway in the vicinity of Times Square sometime between eight and nine o’clock in the morning. Seriously, it’s way too early (and, these days, too chilly) for this nonsense; having to emerge in Midtown is unpleasant enough as it is. (Nevermind the fact that I have no gold to sell.)

Yet, on this particular morning, the flyer being wagged in front of my face caught my interest: A $5 sandwich promotion from a place called Food Exchange (never heard of them)? Closer inspection revealed that this promotion appeared fairly gimmick-free; all you had to do was order online, not even a promo code required.

Alright, I’ll bite. I picked the one featured in the big photo on the front of the flyer (all the better to inspect you, my dear), which is the Tuscan chicken sandwich, complete with “roasted red peppers, mesclun and artichoke aioli in an olive pocket.”

photo-1photo-2Ordering was straightforward, other than the minor annoyance of having to set up yet another user profile, and my sandwich arrived within minutes of when my delivery window began.

Nice bag on the outside, nice sandwich packaging and … whoa. A damn good lookin’ sandwich on the inside. Generous portion of chicken on a soft olive loaf (olive pocket has to be the worst name for this type of bread in the universe); everything else present just like the description promised … (pause, savor and repeat.) I enjoyed full-flavor bite after bite, until it was, suddenly, gone. Damn, that’s a good $5 sandwich.

Thursday: Report from Harvest in the Square (the “Ohhh … Good Food Overload” Post)

photo-4To use a terribly-overused metaphor, I was like a kid in a candy store at Harvest in the Square, only the store was a cavernous tented event space stretching three city blocks and the candy was little menu tastes from several dozen restaurants located in the greater Union Square area — and wine shops, wineries and breweries to boot.

An hour and a half? No problem. As far as I can recount, here’s a faithful tally of my candy store rampage:

photo-12Tocqueville‘s chilled tomato consommé with a confit tomato (right) was beautiful to look at, but, pardon my unrefined palate, seemed a little oily. Also not quite a success was Back Forty‘s cold corn soup with Trinidad pepper relish — the soup had a sourness to it that I just didn’t get, and the texture was oddly … fluffy?

photo-13In the veggie sphere, I much preferred  Union Square Café‘s simple zucchini alla scapece or Gramercy Tavern‘s souffléd crackers stuffed with zucchini — so airy and poppable, it’s a good thing I didn’t discover these little gems until toward the end of the night because I would have kept popping them and not had room for, say, my second serving of Blue Water Grill‘s smoked bacon-wrapped lobster sausage (above, served with corn salsa and fennel pollen aioli). Never knew such a form of lobster existed, but my life is better for it now that I do.

photo-14The Strip House — I’ve never been, but they’re supposed to do good steaks — served a crab cake with fingerling potatoes. It was fine. But I much preferred steak places that did meat, like the Knickerbocker. Perfectly cooked strips of the restaurant’s signature T-Bone steak (right) were being snatched up faster than the chef could slice them. (If the point of a restaurant’s participation is to get you interested enough to come in sometime, and you’re a steak place, serve steak.)

photo-3More great beef: The grilled beef tenderloin and malanga fondue with truffle trumpet frisee salad (left) from brand new Pipa Tapas y Mas restaurant was a dark-horse contender for favorite of the night. And BLT Prime served a bacon-crusted Wagyu flatiron with corn roasted bell pepper salad and bacon chimchurri that sounded more complicated in the placard than what I got on my plate, but it was a nice bite.

photo-8Wildwood BBQ‘s whole pig (right) was definitely the most ambitious display of the night; the pulled pork sliders with coleslaw and chipotle BBQ sauce were okay, but a little boring compared to the smoked pork spare riblets being served at Hill Country‘s table (served with mac & longhorn cheddar cheese).

photo-6Hands down, my overall favorite of the night was Almond, who had a gorgeous, potatoes-overflowing and rock salt display and a brilliant dish (left): house-smoked blue fish and potato chips, dill, goat yogurt. It’s like chips and dip deconstructed, pure mouth bliss. And entirely original. I will go to this restaurant specifically to order this dish in the future.

More from the fish front: SushiSamba did a kanpachi tiradito with heirloom tomatoes, fresh yuzu and white truffle oil, which was clean and just a lovely bite of sushi. And while I wanted so much to love ‘Wichcraft’s fluke with vodka-infused watermelon, charred chilies and basil — sounds so exotic — it was really overwhelming. The charred bits were almost gritty, whoa there vodka-soaked fruit.

photo-10… and, dessert. The Stand‘s mini toasted marshmallow shakes were perhaps one of the most adorable presentations of the evening, each topped with its own chocolate-dusted marshmallow. The perfect serving size for this sort of event: a few good sips and you’re done and SO satisfied.

And the guys hand-shaving the ice for market-flavor treats at Todd English’s Olives table get the award for hardest working team. Literally, hand-shaving ice. It’s like kitchen time-out to have to do that job. The flavors were ambitious and fascinating: Horachata was the clear winner. The creaminess improves the shaved ices, and it comes dotted with tiny raisins. Other flavors were: butternut squash, spiced cider and pomegranate.

On my way out I grabbed at beignet from ilili — so glad I did. It was the perfect sweet bite to end on.

photo-15Other miscellany: Whole Foods’ “Ploughman’s snack,” which featured local ingredients from Rick’s Picks, Schoolhouse Kitchen and Sprout Creek Farm on these fantastic plates made from fallen leaves by VerTerra Dinnerware out of Long Island City showcased all the locally-produced items beautifully. You could tell it was a really thought-out presentation. And then there’s the guac — I just couldn’t say no, not when I see the Rosa Mexicano team pounding out fresh batches in giant stone pestels (left).

… And about those noodles from Republic that were handed out in tiny orange and blue-colored take-out boxes? Mine ended up in my purse for later…

Wednesday: A Fulton Street Mall Original (aka the “Souvlaki House Discovery” Post)

When a restaurant has been in business 37 years, I’m probably going phototo order the house specialty. So when a restaurant’s named after a certain specialty and it’s been around that long … done and done. It’s the quickest decision of what to order that I’ll ever make. (I can be notoriously slow in deciding.)

Such is the case with the Souvlaki House, an authentically vintage counter diner-style restaurant, complete with swivel-top stools, a couple of older cooks in white smocks and white caps and an exterior sign bordered with blinking, old-fashioned light bulbs. The Souvlaki House has an undeniable charm — such a contrast to the neon and the bling and the fast food restaurants that otherwise characterize the Fulton Street Mall area in downtown Brooklyn.

photo-1So of course I had the souvlaki (gyro). To make the sandwich ($6), thin slices of meat were shaved off a vertical rotating spit and tucked into a pita along with iceberg lettuce, onion, tomato and white sauce and/or hot sauce. Damn, this thing was stuffed full of meat— I’ve never had a pita sandwich so heavily stacked for the carnivores. In fact, I couldn’t even come close to finishing it.

… Although that could have had something to do with the fries, which are the epitome of perfect deli fries. They’re cooked to order, meaning the frozen fries go straight into the frier only when you order them, bubble away for a few minutes and are served on a small paper plate ultra piping hot and still just greasy enough that if you salt them, the salt will stick a bit. (Sometimes salting fries can seem so futile.) And for $2!

photo-2Fair prices, good food, some old-fashioned charm: All in all, you can see why these guys have been around forever and a day. Here’s hoping it stays that way.

TIP: Souvlaki House does a number of American basics, too. I’d totally do a BLT ($4.25) and side of fries and call that lunch.

Souvlaki House, 158 Lawrence St., between Fulton and Willoughby streets, 718-852-0443

Tuesday: Ohh I Get It … a “Pitza” is a “Pizza on Pita” (aka the “Bedouin Tent Discovery” Post)

photoMore Atlantic Avenue discoveries.

Bedouin Tent. I stopped in on Sunday to grab a take-out menu and the front of the house smelled so good — that sweet, dough-y, bread baking smell — that if I hadn’t just finished my Paddington Bear panini across the road, I would have ordered something, anything, right there and then.

Bedouin Tent makes their own pita in a huge, industrial pizza oven, right there by the entrance, all day every day. Little dough balls sit stacked in flour on one side, waiting to be rolled out and shaped.

(I don’t really know how to make this metaphor work, but they reminded me of nothing so much as a small surplus of snowballs, lying in wait.)

photo-4Just as the oven is located front and center in the restaurant, the pita here is showcased in every dish: It is the vessel for an assortment of Middle Eastern salads and spreads; split open, the pita becomes a pocket, or sandwich; laid flat and topped with diced and sliced meats, vegetables and (sometimes) fresh mozzarella cheese, the pita becomes a “pitza,” a pita/pizza hybrid; with meal-sized salads and entrees, pita is served on the side, like bread.

photo-3I tried the garden salad ($7.50) — lettuce, tomato, mushrooms, peppers, cucumber, artichoke hearts, olives, parsley and feta cheese — and the Lambajin “pitza” ($7), a crumbled mixture of lamb, onion, tomato, parsley and other spices, spread out on flat pita disc and baked like a pizza.

It was a ton of food — easily enough for two people. (Indeed, it was two meals for me.) This is how every $7.50 veggie salad should be loaded: thick cuts of fresh produce, plus beautiful homemade touches, like housemade stuffed grape leaves, artichoke hearts, a blend of feta and parsley.

The Lambajin … a meat-lover’s “alternative” pizza. Full of flavor and meatiness, I did miss the cheese. (Look closely, there are a couple pitzas that are cheeseless.) All in all, my first Bedouin Tent meal left me wanting to try more, namely the “Green Pitza,” — leeks, scallions and fenugreek (described as “lightly sweet”) and mozzarella cheese — and, well, everything else.

photo-1Bedouin Tent, 405 Atlantic Ave., Boreum Hill, Brooklyn, (718) 852-5555.

TIP: Bedouin Tent has a large back patio, shaded by large, cream-colored umbrellas. I had to take lunch to-go, but if the weather’s good, take advantage of it! Then, it seems like more places than not along Atlantic Avenue have just similar backyards. Merits more exploring …

Monday: Really Solo Dining at Curry Spot (aka the “$13.95 Feast for One” Post)

photo-6I really want the Curry Spot, a new Indian restaurant in Brooklyn Heights, to do well.

The food is great, the restaurant pleasant enough and the $13.95 two-course meal special — your choice of appetizer and entree, basmati rice, one naan bread and an assortment of condiments — competes with some of the best dinner values I’ve seen around lately. You’re in and out and stuffed and happy for a $20 spot.

photo-9But they’ve got to do something to pick up the pace. On Monday night, between 6:15-7:15 pm, I was the the only diner in the entire place. It broke my heart, just a little (not to mention, it was mildly awkward). At least a couple of delivery and take-out orders came through.

I mean, they are new. According to the grand opening date printed on the take-out menu, the Curry House just opened in mid-August. I only discovered it yesterday; I spotted the strings of festive, multi-colored flags fluttering across the sidewalk from a distance and took a chance on this lonely block off Camden Plaza.

photo-13And I’m here again. The $13.95 special stuck in my head. And guess what? It’s even better than advertised.

For starters, it comes with five Indian condiments to play with, rather than just the two listed. I eventually figured out that this is because the mango chutney and ratia (yogurt & cucumber sauce) are the only ones you’d otherwise have to pay for, the other ones are complimentary for everyone. Still, the delight of five condiments showing up at the table!

photo-12Also, I upgraded to garlic naan without charge (I was expecting to see an additional charge on the bill, there wasn’t one) and I was served a small side salad and a small taste of the yellow lentil soup (the Mulligatawny soup?) that wasn’t listed as being a part of the special.

I’m not sure, everyone dining in might get the soup and salad — they weren’t much more than tastes — or I was given just a touch of special treatment, you know, being the only diner in the whole place. But I suspect that’s just the sort of people that the management at the Curry Spot are; they genuinely want to take care of you.

photo-8For my appetizer I ordered the vegetable pakora: an assortment of deep-fried vegetables (zucchini, mushrooms and cauliflower spears) and three vegetarian fritters, deep-fried balls of sweet potato, Indian spices and I’m not sure what else. Very tasty — and the perfect appetizer to engage the condiments.

photo-7It is called the Curry Spot, so I had to try the house curry with lamb. Before the end of the meal, I was sopping up the curry sauce with my naan, just so good. The curry is a savory one, lightly spiced and vaguely gravy-tasting (in a good way), the opposite of something like a korma sauce, that classic cream-based sauce made with roasted almonds and cashews.

I am definitely coming back to try another variation of the $13.95 special. Next time though, I’m going to bring friends.

Curry Spot, 151 Remsen St., btwn Court and Clinton streets, Brooklyn Heights, (718) 260-9000.