Sunday: In Search of a Fresh, Lively Salad (aka the “Almost Perfect Baoguette Steak Salad” Post)

photo-6Finally, late into Sunday evening, I found myself  standing at the counter of Baoguette/Pho Sure in the West Village, utterly parched for some fresh, lively greenery after Saturday’s (need I remind you) “Ugghhh …” binge.

There is one salad on the menu, a skirt steak salad. (note: I can find no online menu that reflects this menu change/update.) Skirt steak salad, with pineapple, English cucumber, fresh herbs, crushed peanuts, etc., etc. $12.99.

photo-8“Does that come on a bed of greens?” I ask. I only ask because the only other salad listed, a green papaya salad, while delicious, has no bed of greens whatsoever. And I need some leafy greens. Desperately.

She told me yes.

In fact, the answer is no. No greens. I was sort of annoyed … until I took a bite.

That salad was gone in t-minus 10 minutes, and I wanted more. Simple, fresh, beautiful — and with ample, gorgeous (and gorgeously rare) slices of skirt steak — “Fuck it, I will find some greens tomorrow.”

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Monday: Oh Why The Hell Not (aka the “Back for More $5 Sandwich Love from Food Exchange” Post)

A friend of mine who saw my Tweet about trying Food Exchange on Friday asked me over the weekend, “Well, how was it?”

photo-7“Oh it was sooo good,” I said. “The special runs through Wednesday. I might just have to try three more.” I was teasing, sort of. But as it turns out, not really, because here I was, perusing the online sandwich menu for Food Exchange at 11:35 am on Monday morning. More than a little deja vous.

The only thing deja vous, however, about the “100% all natural beef” steak & cheese sandwich from the “Hot Pressini Melts” section (quite different from the “Cutting Edge Sandwiches” section) was … the serious deliciousness.

Another winning sandwich: It arrived via delivery perfectly warm, the cheese melty, tender slices of beef, flecked with bits of sauteed mushroom and red pepper, garlic aioli, all pressed between a crusty rosemary focaccia bread. My one (minor) critique would be I’d love to have the beef a little more rare, but that’s virtually impossible, particularly in a warm sandwich.

Alright, Food Exchange, you’re 2-for-2, so far…

The Brocton, NY Edition: As the Sun Sets Over Lake Erie

IMG_0058 copyOn certain hill rises in this area, you can look toward the West and catch a glimpse of blue. Just for a second, it looks like the ocean. … but it’s Lake Erie.

There’s a reason why Lake Erie is perpetually underutilized: It’s freezing cold, used to be polluted (still is?), and is dangerous. Storms move in faster than you can get out, even on a boat. And they’re wicked. There are a number of known shipwrecks in the deep freshwater lake, and those are only the ones that were noticed.

Lake Erie does have great sunsets. I’ve enjoyed them, but for all my years visiting this area, I’ve never seen a restaurant attempt to capitalize on Erie’s sunset’s like ZeBro’s: Here, weather permitting, you can sit outside; there’s live music weekend evenings in the summer, possibly even a raw bar. I’ve never seen it, but who am I to judge? It sounds great.

IMG_0055 copyIMG_0043 copyOn the other hand: Who really needs “outside” when you’ve got these giant plate-glass windows — there are plenty of restaurants in San Francisco and north whose charms don’t rely on beach access. And what about an over-the-top, wood-paneled, nautical theme inside? And the good company?

IMG_0048 copyZeBro’s has plenty of charms. Like a lot of spots that can rest their laurels on the setting, their food is a mixed bag. I’ve had good food here: I love their warm cornbread muffins that come with optional honey butter or cinnamon honey butter. I think their French onion soup, in its individual crock, is both classy and satisfying. The fish fry is good.

What I ordered on this occasion, the Barcelona top sirloin ($15.95) — an 8 oz. sirloin served over a grilled Portabella mushroom and topped with wild mushroom pesto — was just okay. … I think (I know) part of my problem was indecision; when I don’t know what to order, one strategy is to look for house specialties, which usually mean something, whether tried-and-true or unique, and to just pick one.

IMG_0052 copyIn this case, the steak (bottom right corner) ended up just being greyish and messy  — although I should have seen it coming. As soon as our waiter couldn’t answer the question: “What’s mushroom pesto like; pesto is normally made with fresh herbs, etc…” I should have abandoned ship. Yet somehow he talked his way out of answering.

I’m pretty sure I was staring out the window.

Ze’Bros, Harbor House, Westfield, NY, 716.326.2017

The Minnesota Edition: I’ve Had This Meal Countless Times (aka the “Classic Summer Supper” Post)

photo-5Dinner salad.
Corn on the cob.
Twice-baked potatoes.
Steak on the grill.

This is a meal that I’ve had dozens and dozens of times, probably even hundreds of times, over the years — Quite simply, this is Minnesota in the summer.

The cut of meat may change, but it’s always grilled. Tonight it was choice New York strip steaks from Cub Foods, a regional grocery store chain.

photo-1photo-2The style of potatoes may change — potato salad, baked potatoes, boiled baby potatoes tossed in fresh herbs and butter are other regular options — but the potatoes are always there. Twice-baked potatoes — potatoes baked in the oven, innards scooped and blended with such goodies as bacon bits, sour cream, green onion and shredded cheese, and then finished off in the oven again — are a personal favorite and a Grandma specialty.

photophoto-6Every Minnesotan will tell you there’s nothing better than sweet corn bought off the back of a farmer’s truck, although methods of buttering the corn do vary. This household uses a corn dipper, a tall, cylinder-typed glass beaker that is filled with hot water to a certain line and topped off with butter, which melts and floats on the top — ensuring a perfectly evenly-coated cob of corn every time.

photo-3The salad, too, is always there, although sometimes it can be an afterthought. Not when I make it: chopped romaine lettuce garnished with julienned carrots (from a bag), sliced red bell pepper, a tomato wedge, bacon bits, green onion, sunflower seeds, prepared tableside; add dressing of choice.

The timing of it all — so that dinner begins with the sun still well above the horizon, and isn’t over until the sun sets over the far lake shore — well, that’s intentional every time.

Dinner: A Little Starstruck and Really Good Beef (the Les Halles Discovery Post)

Don’t ask me how I ended up sitting in the original Les Halles restaurant on Park Avenue, the exact place where Tony Bourdain, now a writing, traveling, gallivanting food-centric travel show host (among other things) worked so hard and played even harder, for so many years. Because I’m not really so sure either.

photo(5)But there I was, in flip-flops and a breezy summer skirt, drinking really great wine (probably better than my fledgling palate deserves) and poking at buttery, garlic-y escargot, still bubbling hot from the oven on a random Thursday night. And loving every second of it — and not feeling uncomfortable at all.

Les Halles — at one point it was described to me as a slightly grittier, edgier Pastis, which I really enjoyed — really does lack pretension. The servers are knowledgeable, if a little no-nonsense, and the ocassional picture on the wall hangs askew. But no one cares, because Les Halles really is about the meal, and what a meal it was:

photo(6)photoThe order of escargots were followed by the côte deboeuf, described on the menu as “prime rib or two,” but this is unlike any prime rib I’ve ever had before. (Something to do with French versus American cuts of beef.) This stunning beef cut is cooked on the bone, carved up tableside, and served in long, strips on plates piled high with hot frites. Nice work, Bourdian. Your team nailed it.

TIP: Go! Les Halles is that it really isn’t expensive, nor is it pretentious. Check out their menu: a majority of the entries fall between $14-$24, and most of those are less than $20.

Dinner: One Night of Decadence, From $1.50 Sliders to a $21 Steakhouse Burger

We didn’t plan this. The stop at The Patriot on the southern fringes of Tribeca was mostly spontaneous (admittedly, the desire for the bar’s superb sliders increases with relative proximity to bar).

And the decision to order a steakhouse burger from Rare Bar and Grill in the West Village, a couple of hours later, was entirely spontaneous — if tangentially indebted to the previous consumption of sliders. (The decision was prompted by the discussion of the $21 burger, which was prompted by walking by Rare and picking up a take-out menu, the interest in which might have been prompted by the fact that we’d just polished off a couple of beers, a half-dozen cheeseburger sliders and a basket of onion rings at The Patriot.)

photo-2photo-5But damn, what a mash-up! In jumping from $1.50 cheeseburger sliders (left) to a $21 steakhouse burger (right), we leap-frogged about 95% of the burgers of New York City. The whole thing was a little heady … and yes, a little indulgent. Here’s how the two experiences stacked up:

photoThe Patriot: One of downtown Manhattan’s proudest dive bars. The jukebox (mostly country, with a smattering of classic rock) is played many decibels too loud, the beer is cold and cheap — $8 pitchers of PBR, $5.50 Beck’s bombers (24 oz.) — the bartenders the epitome of “girls who just wanna have fun.” The Patriot is such a booze-centric bar that it’s surprising that there’s a kitchen here at all, let alone one that turns out good (cheap!) sliders.

photo-1I can’t vouch for much else on the short menu, because once I tried the cheeseburger sliders I haven’t deviated (other than to add the occasional basket of onion rings or french fries, both of which are fairly average).

But these sliders: Mini char-grilled patties, still a touch pink inside — just because they’re small doesn’t mean they have to be overcooked — each one is a perfect 2-3 bites of soft, sweet bun-to-burger ratio, the white American cheese a molten mass melding burger to bun. The sliders are served all nestled together in a parchment paper-lined basket with just a side of sliced pickles and some ketchup packets for company. I guarantee you’ll wind up with baskets that look like this, the scene of absolute belly satisfaction.

photo-4Rare Bar & Grill: Get up and spin around in circles a few times. That’s sort of how it felt to open up this take-out container, revealing this stunning burger specimen, called the Bleeker Burger: 8 oz. of chopped New York strip steak, topped with provolone, sauteed onions, crispy bacon, and accompanied by such premium accouterments as this succulent, sunny-yellow tomato slice, pickles from the Lower East Side and a towering brioche bun.

photo-6Each of Rare’s steakhouse burgers ($21), are made from specific cut (or cuts) of premium beef — tenderloin, ribeye, NY strip steak, T-bone (a blend of sirloin and sirloin and strip) — the distinction of the burger being you really taste the steak, beyond the big beefiness a good burger offers.

It’s decadent, and a little confusing: Who eats steak chopped up like this and stuck between a bun? Part of the joy I get out of eating a steak is slicing through the meat, slicing of just that perfect bite and really savoring the meat for what it is. I found myself pulling out nuggets of steak from the patty, and happily munching on those, between larger bites. I also found myself wishing the beef hadn’t been “infused with Cajun spices” — not necessary, let the meat shine through. (Oddly, all the steakhouse burgers have some sort of “flavor” to them.)

I couldn’t ever quite shake the feeling that this burger is less a burger than a steak in disguise. And why would anyone do that?