Dinner: The End of Last Week’s Food Bounty (The Adrienne’s Leftovers Post)

Digging around in the fridge I found this lonely, last little stuffed shell leftover from the feast that was Adrienne’s Pizzabar last week. And I ate it. Along with the end of the mixed salad, which was mixed with the last of the fennel.

photoIt’s funny how food carries the imprint of an emotional memory. Readying dinner, I was struck with vivid memories from the excellent meal the week before, as well as memories of other dishes made with the greens — in particular, one day last week I made my first attempt at an omelette in just about forever, and it turned out spectacularly. The olive oil that I drizzled all over the dish (and which is nearly gone, too) is remnant from my article on olive oils that I wrote in February.

For some reason, tonight, everything had a memory.

Wednesday: The “Everything Is Good Here” Post, (“Here” Is Adrienne’s Pizzabar)

I just roll my eyes when you ask a server what they recommend and they say, “Everything! It’s just so good!” in that mindless, chipper way. Umm, no. We weren’t asking if you recommended eating here. We’ve already decided to do that. We were asking which items you, server who has eaten most everything on the menu, prefers. 

photo-10photo-9Anyhow, we didn’t pose that question to anyone at Adrienne’s Pizzabar in the Financial District. But we did sample nearly every section of the menu — an antipasti, a 10″ pizza and a pasta entree, baked in the pizza oven — and it was all damn delicious. 

photo-8The mixed antipasti misto ($16, small): A bounty of fresh vegetables, roasted and served virtually naked, with just a touch of olive oil, salt, pepper and the occasional spice. The flavor of the vegetables shined. Plus, several toasts topped with bruschetta; a lentil and a white bean salad; thin-shaved slices of salumi and prosciutto; cubes of cheese, a basket of rolls and olive oil and vinegar for dipping. This antipasti, with a glass of wine or two on the picnic tables out back, would be a light and lovely dinner in itself. 

photo-11… And then the pizza came. We ordered the vesuviana pizza, topped with anchovies, olives, capers, spicy red peppers, basil ($15), and it was almost mouth-orgasmic. The way that the hot peppers played off the saltiness of the capers, anchovies and olives; the balance between cheese, homemade au natural tomato sauce, the soft, springy dough base — this truly unique pizza was the favorite among dishes that were all excellent. 

photo-12The conchiglie imbottite, pasta shells stuffed with ricotta, spinach, marinara ($10): Baking the shells made the cheese bubble and crisp on top, while the ricotta inside stayed light, creamy and smooth; the tomato sauce puree was vibrant, fresh and simple, the dominant flavor tomatoes. (I like this kind of marinara sauce, which actually let the tomato shine through). This entree could easily be a meal in itself. 

… While I can’t (yet) guarantee the excellence of whole menu, based on the excellence of this first experience, I am confident that more picks than not are bound to be a success. I am definitely going to be back for more.

Batting .500: Burger Burger Awesomeness, La Senseless La Cense

One of the anomalies of my eating habits lately has been my increased consumption of burgers.

Between Wednesday, June 24, when I had the burger failure at Federal Cafe in the Financial District, and Thursday, July 2, when I shared a bacon cheeseburger at Daddy-O in the West Village (hands down, one of my favorite burgers in the city, every time), I was averaging a burger every other day. That’s approaching Wimpy standards

Sadly, the burgers only batted .500. The other contenders? Monday’s knocked-it-out-of-the-park hit, the California burger from Burger Burger (left, $10 and change, with tax), and Tuesday’s lackluster cheeseburger from La Cense Burger Truck (right, with pickle, $8).

photo-2photo-5Let’s line these two up, tête-à-tête:

MEAT

La Cense: Pre-formed, frozen patties; composition is a grass-fed “all natural,” 85% lean beef blend (sirloin, round roast, chuck roast and flank steak) from La Cense ranch in Montana. After cooking, the texture is a little over-processed, the meat dry. It tastes vaguely gamey, which I assume is the “taste” of grass-fed beef.

Burger Burger: Don’t know if the beef’s been previously frozen, but the patties, which are billed as “100% Angus,” are hand-formed in the stand-alone shop; after cooking, the burger is moist, the texture crumbly. 

BUN

La Cense: The hearty poppy-seed bun was a highlight of the burger. It was fresh, sturdy and satisfactorily contained the burger to the last bite. 

Burger Burger: Mmm. This soft, fluffy, lightly sweet brioche bun squishes down around the burger and its contents to really lock and hold it all in — without falling apart. 

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COOKING & PREPARATION

La Cense: Flat griddle-cooked medium burgers only, no changes even by special request. All burgers are served with caramelized onions, ketchup and mustard packets. Cheese $0.50 extra. No lettuce or tomato; no fries (Kettle brand chips). A pickle on the side $0.50 extra. 

Burger Burger: Charbroiled over open flame to doneness of customer’s request. Toppings are infinite and interesting. The California burger came topped with a Thousand Island dressing, guacamole, frizzled onions, lettuce and tomato. Crispy-crunchy, fresh and flavorful, this burger was perfect as-is. In addition to classics, the menu boasts a list of less-conventional burger options worth exploring. All burgers come with fries or side salad, included in price. 

SETTING

La Cense: You’re ordering from a truck, so finding seating in the vicinity means sitting on the steps/outdoor benches of a nearby office building, finding a nearby food court with seating (Grand Central is a viable Midtown East option) or heading back to the desk.

photo-3Burger Burger: In the summertime, there’s lovely outdoor seating immediately adjacent to the shop, as well as a number of tables that blend into the Western end of the outdoor seating on Stone Street. If peak lunchtime crowds are an issue, there are a dozen stone benches 20 yards away, a guaranteed backup.

Lunch: Burger Bomb at Federal Cafe (Take My Word For It)

New York has spoiled me. This city has killer burgers. It’s gotten to the point that I can’t remember the last time I had a “bad” burger, and that’s  made me reckless. For some months now I’ve been waltzing around, ordering burgers willy-nilly, gambling that the quality of the meat, the execution of the cooking, the stature of the bun and the overall assemblage will deliver a decent, and possibly even good, or possibly even great, burger.

photo(5)photo(7)Well, I got checked today by Federal Cafe‘s Inside Out Burger, and I’m not beyond admitting that I probably deserved it. Damn, I wanted so badly to be the one to discover that Federal Cafe’s “9 to 5er’s Lunch Special” — “Any item on our menu for only $9.99” — wasn’t a gimmick but an under-the-radar lunching gem.

And … fail. In reality, the “regular” menu prices, which range from $8 – $19, are probably inflated to make the $9.99 price point attractive. I doubt that anything on photo(3)their menu is worth more than $9.99, and certainly not the Inside Out Burger “8 oz. Black Angus burger grilled to perfection topped with cheddar, bacon & mushrooms” — listed for $16 regularly.

Here’s my laundry list: While cooked properly, the patty was definitely some previously-frozen, machine-formed number, bearing no evidence of (how’d they cook it?) griddle or grill marks. While the bun top looked promising, dotted with sesame seeds, the bottom half was soggy almost immediately (and that from a non-juicy burger!) and began crumbling immediately upon touch or handling.

photo(4)And the fries. Quite possibly the worst sweet potato fries I’ve ever had. They tasted (and sort of looked) like orange-colored french fries. You order sweet potato fries for the ways they’re different from regular fries. These fries were so bland, so blah, they’d struggle to compete with fast food fries. In fact, I think they’d loose.

If you’re as attracted to the potential of Federal Cafe’s $9.99 lunch special — and I’m sure there’s someone out there who’s thinking that it’s only the burger that’s bad, that the $18 cheesesteak (for $9.99) might be the key — go for it. Just skip the burgers.

TIP: I saw a spinach salad going out — piled high with tomatoes, mushrooms, red onion, hard-boiled egg, and, at the tippity-top, a tangle of bacon — that looked decent …

Lunch: Sandwich House Makes Surprisingly Good … Sandwiches

I’m exploring far, far downtown eats for an article I’m writing, which is how I ended up at Sandwich House today, on recommendation.

I’ll be totally honest, I kind of wasn’t impressed. Salads in take-away boxes sparsely fill a front-facing refrigerated display case that I’d think normally sandwich shop might use to show off its selection of premium meats, cheeses, condiments, etc. (Come to think of it, where were the goods? Back fridge?)

photophoto(3)The restaurant was mostly empty, and something about the signage and menu design (cleanliness of design? clip art?) vaguely worried me. I felt relief to see the daily specials sign at the register.

photo(2)The sandwich menu is huge, so I figured, what better place to begin than with a special: half a roast beef sandwich, a small pea soup and a diet Pepsi set me back a mere $8.75. I left … not knowing what to expect, frankly.

And then I unwrapped my sandwich. The roast beef was rare it’d left a little bloody pool in my butcher paper. I was not expeacting that. For a medium-rare beef eater, though, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If nothing else, it’s a sign of freshness; roast beef is intended to be sliced ultra-thin and ultra-pink, but the stuff you normally get in the store is either overcooked or dried out.

The roast beef juice soaked into the hearty baker’s sort of multi-grain bread that’s been smearead with Russian dressing; also tucked in there were roasted red peppers, nice leafy greens and … basil. A really thoughtful sandwich, actually, with first-class ingredients. I’ll pass along the recommendation.

TIP: The soup was good, but on an ordinary day I’d stick with what’s in the name — or at least begin there. Save the other options for that day you can’t do another sandwich.

Bloody beef photo after the jump:

Continue reading “Lunch: Sandwich House Makes Surprisingly Good … Sandwiches”

Lunch: What Is “Best,” Really? (aka the Alfanoose Falafel post)

I was reminded again of the inherent hazards of declaring something to be the “best” in the city today: Often times it’s a setup for disappointment.

Which isn’t to say that Alfanoose‘s falafel are bad. They just didn’t quite live up to the expectation I held in my mind knowing the falafel have been awarded, every year since 2000, to be the best falafel in New York — a fact posted proudly at the very top-center of the restaurant’s homepage.

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What was I expecting? I’m not sure. Something discernibly different, though. Striking, even. I wanted to take a bite of a falafel and experience something that would cause me to revise my opinion level of the deep-fried dough balls, which currently hovers somewhere between “I-don’t-get-it” ambivalence and indifference.

The falafel were satisfactory, as much as something that reminds me of dried-out meatballs can be, but there was no ground-shaking revelation. Which, given the promise, translated into vague disappointment and the lurking question: Did I miss something?

photo(6)TIP: Falafel are just one small part of Alfanoose’s extensive menu, which includes a dozen meat or vegetarian pita sandwiches and platters, which are substantial (note shish kabob sandwich, left) and cheap. Vegetarian sandwiches and plates are generally $5.75 and $10, respectively; meat sandwiches and plates range from $7.95 – $14.25. Or, in other words, definitely merits exploration.