Published: A Costco Survival Guide (aka the “Meet Your Manhattan Costco” Post)

A Costco Survival Guide” was published in the The New York Press, a local alt weekly. The article offers a strategy for shopping at the warehouse giant, even if you live in a small New York City apartment. Here, some outtakes from my scouting trip to the new Upper East Side warehouse.

From the opening paragraph: “…on the other hand, where else can you get wild king crab legs for $10.99 per pound?”


My favorite store-bought hummus is made by Sabra, and I have no doubt that I could easily plow through the 32 oz. tubs that sell for $5.98. Even more though, I fell hard and fast for these single-serving versions. I’m something of a market/product aficionado and I’ve never seen Sabra hummus in this packaging in any market in New York City previously:

Here, the Hellmann’s mayo from the article:

“That’s embarrassing. Who eats that much mayonnaise?” asks a shopper, gesturing toward the giant, 128-oz. tub of Hellmann’s Best ($9.99). He grabs the pack of three squeezable, 22-oz. bottles ($8.99) and walks off.

Uh, that’s the point.We don’t eat that much mayo; so don’t get hung up on the bulk stuff. The three-pack is for regular shoppers and the tub is for the guy that’ll be making giant batches of tuna salad at the bodega.

Premium products at prices so cheap it shouldn’t be legal:

Oh Costco. If only you weren’t tucked so far off the beaten path on E. 116th Street! I’ll see you again someday, I’m sure …

Chinese and Japanese, Together Under One Roof? (aka the “No, Not Fusion… Something Else” Post)

“Hunan Delight Matsuya
Chinese & Japanese Cuisine”

One phone number, one address. And then there’s the matter of the handwritten sign that reads “FREE WINE” in the window.

What. I’ve been perplexed by this locals Upper East Side restaurant since I moved into the area.

The take-away menus make certain that it’s two restaurants — Hunan Delight, a Chinese restaurant, and Matsua Japanese cuisine — in one space. How can two such disparate cuisines — different ingredients, techniques, cultural histories — cohabit? How can this possibly work?

Well, except, it does. The food’s actually really good.

We came for the free wine, the Chinese food (after I found out Hunan Delight gets rave reviews online, to my surprise) and maybe a California roll. (It’s hard to mess up a roll made of crab stick, avocado and cucumber.)

What we discovered:

— Free wine offer is truly free: one glass of cheap, but crisp and very drinkable white wine, per person at dinner

— One of my new favorite Chinese dishes, called Green Jade Chicken ($11.95). Plump white meat pieces woked over high heat in “chef’s spicy sauce” (not really that spicy) along with matchstick-sized pieces of fresh ginger and string beans.

In the heat, the sauce caramelizes into a crisp, light glaze on the beans and chicken; the fresh ginger adds a welcome kick. This dish is the exact antithesis to the soggy, fatty, greasy Chinese food of styrofoam yore. It’s just lovely.

— And the sushi? You can find far worse sushi in supermarkets everywhere. Entranced by the platter of Dragon Rolls the sushi chef was putting up on the counter (see below) … so we ordered one.

It turned out to be a cooked roll (I still haven’t tried the raw sushi here) — shrimp tempura and cucumber on the inside, wrapped in eel and avocado on the outside.

— Doting, attentive service, of the sort you only get at a restaurant where the proprietors are that hands on, that involved, with everything.

There was a certain activity in the restaurant the night we were there, tables being reconfigured, the sushi chef turning out dragon rolls like nobody’s business, a party of young twenty-somethings turns up with a bottle of Johnny Walker.

Turns out, on this particular night the restaurant was hosting a friends and family Chinese New Year feast of epic proportions after the restaurant closed (11p). Being the last guests in the restaurant, and obviously geeking out about the Chinese New Year food, they kindly invited us to join … we didn’t, and in hindsight, wish we did. The food looked A-mazing and it was of epic proportions.

Still, this sit-down dinner for two totaled just $42.30 … also known in New York City as cheap.

Hunan Delight, a Chinese restaurant, and Matsuya Sushi, Japanese cuisine, share 1467 York Avenue, at 78th Street, 212-628-8161

Saturday: Ugghhh … (aka the “Tour de Bar Food” Post)

Potato skins, followed by an appetizer sampler, followed by late night pizza, all washed down with copious amounts of beer. This just might be the blog post I submit to ThisIsWhyYou’reFat.

Let’s chalk it up to the fact that Saturday was a double special occasion, an out-of-town visitor and a local friend’s birthday. Here’s what went down:

photo-1photoFully aware of the endurance it would take to get through the evening — we were starting early, about 6 o’clock — we needed to eat something early to hold down the fort. Enter, potato skins at Murphy’s Pub in Midtown East. They were chosen purely for the fact that they were the cheapest, least fried and easiest shareable appetizers on the menu.

photo-2When we showed up at the birthday party at Rattle n’ Hum, the excellent craft beer bar in Murray Hill (just a little further south), my friends had apparently had the same idea and voila, chicken quesadilla and sampler platter arrived. We were now satisfactorily fortified for the copious amounts of beer that came next.

photo-5And as for the slices from La Mia Pizza … well, anyone who’s ever been out for a big night in New York City knows that there’s just something magical about the glow emanating from a pizza shop open late night. And, if you actually have to cross in front of it while walking home, it’s a lost cause — even if you don’t finish it until the AM.

Sunday: Barbecue, Squared (and a Birthday, to Boot!)

Almost didn’t make it to the second barbecue of the day because we were busy working our way through a basket of rib tips at Brother Jimmy’s BBQ, which happen to be one of my favorite food discoveries so far in New York City — rib tips are like these gnarled, meaty, fatty end-of-rib knuckles and they’re so, so good.

I think I might like them better than ribs. The ultimate test will be when I rise to the challenge of Brother Jimmy’s Monday night special: $15.95 for all-you-can-eat rib tips and all-you-can-drink domestic draft (maximum two hours). Hot damn. We’ll find out how many rib tips this girl can truly put away when that day comes.

photo-3photo-4Thankfully, I did get to the second barbecue just in time: It was after the dishes were washed and the home-smoked pulled pork, smothered in a delicious hickory-style spicy barbecue sauce, had been packaged into leftover bags … but (and this is key) before the pork, dishes, et. al. walked out the door. Meaning, I swooped in and got one!

They layering of the sandwich is key, my friend, the pitmaster (if you’ll recall, the one responsible for the delicious tea-smoked chickens), advised: Coleslaw, then sliced white onion, then pork, pickles on top. One of these little pulled pork sandwich gems, paired with the cutest miniature cupcakes from Crumbs Bakeshop … this Sunday birthday party was kickin’ yet.

Monday: Birthday Dinner Gone Gonzo (aka the “Cheese Three Ways” Post)

There are few things more enjoyable in the world than sharing a meal with close friends, when everyone makes the time in their respectively busy lives to actually be present, and eat and laugh and tell stories and simply enjoy each other’s company.

photo-3… Which makes my birthday dinner at Gonzo in the West Village just about perfect.

It wasn’t the original plan: Earlier Monday morning I found out that Brooklyn Bowl — the new, LEED-certified, 16-lane bowling alley in Williamsburg with a full menu by Blue Ribbon (where I was going to have a small fête) — was closed Mondays.

I needed options, stat. My research skills kicked into high gear, and I ended up with a list of options that included everything from all-you-can eat/drink rip tips (which are excellent) and domestic draft beer at Brother Jimmy’s BBQ ($15.95) to a 3-course, $35 prixe fix meal at Sojourn in the Upper East Side that includes a wine pairings.

In the mix, from my friends at winedanddined.com:

Gonzo (W. 13th nr 6th Ave) is offering 2 for 1 pizzas on Monday nights and from 5-7 on Saturdays.

At first, pizza didn’t sound quite right. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. It was the perfect renegade birthday dinner — going gonzo at Gonzo. A girl can’t ask for much more on my birthday than a literary pun that’s this sweet.

photo-2Plus, the grilled, thin-crust pizzas are unique in the city, a culinary gift from the late chef Vincent Scotto. Oblong, ultra-thin and piled high with premium toppings in complex, sometimes exotic, flavor combinations, they’re certainly unlike any pizza I’d ever had.

I’ll be back to try the pizza with watermelon listed as a topping, but for a first taste we stuck with the classics:

(top) Sausage pizza, topped with ricotta cheese, roasted red pepper puree, romano & bel paese cheeses.

(bottom) Wild mushroom pizza, topped with chanterelle, shiitake & oyster mushrooms, caramelized onions, taleggio, romano & bel paese cheeses.

photo-1We also shared a large meat-and-cheese tasting platter ($25), my picks (counter-clockwise from top left): Capicola, Prosciutto di Parma, Cacciatorini with fig & fennel jam; taleggio, pepper pecorino (center), giant basket of grilled bread slices (not pictured). Few things make me happy like a good meat and cheese plate, maybe a glass of prosecco to go with — oh wait, had that, too.

Prosecco was as much a through-line to this lovely meal as was the cherished company and … of course, the cheese.

That thing with a candle up top? Brown sugar cheesecake. It’s a cheesecake purists will appreciate: a slightly different, darker sugar taste (molasses?) comes through, but the flavors aren’t so radically changed as if whole candy bars are thrown in, a la Cheesecake Factory. It’s really, really good. My one critique? With the circular shape, you get less buttery, gram-cracker-y crust.

TIP: The pizzas are definitely larger than our server let on — don’t let them up-sell you. Go with a group and share a mix of the cicchetti, Venetian-style small plates ($7-$11), or maybe a couple of appetizers, plus the pizzas. Two-for-one pizzas makes group dining that much more affordable — and fun.

Friday: Milk, Banana, Peanut Butter Smoothie (The “Make This at Home!” Post)

What do I remember about my first peanut butter in a smoothie?

Scene: UCLA food court, Arthur Ashe building, central campus. Small, non-Jamba Juice smoothie franchise. Have no idea what it was called, but “rise and shine” or “breakfast boost” (or something like that) was in there somewhere. As was frozen yogurt, fruit, granola, honey and peanut butter, and who knows what else.

All I know is sucking that thing down, from its giant, styrofoam cup with with dancing fruit pieces on it, on my way to my Friday morning class … it was bliss.

photo-1photo-2…Fast-forward to where I rediscover my love of peanut butter in smoothies, while standing in my tiny kitchen in the Upper East Side and trying to make the most of a ripe banana. Staring into my tiny fridge for inspiration, I remembered the peanut butter-enhanced smoothie of college years.

Here’s my go at my own, simpler version:

photo-36-10 ice cubes (depending on size and desired iciness)
1 banana, broken into chunks
2 Tlbs. (hearty scoop) of crunchy peanut butter, Whole Foods’ 365 brand
3/4 c. (just more than a hearty splash) of milk (I found this organic, grass-fed, nonfat milk at a nearby natural foods store for just $3.99 / half-gallon!)

Into blender … and blend. So icy-cool, so frothy, so sweetly banana-y, with that underlying peanut butter reassurance that this smoothie also packs some serious sustenance.

TIP: Jamba Juice’s Peanut Butter Moo’d smoothie, which is more milkshake than smoothie, in both ingredients and calories, is a poser. If you go for it, go in eyes wide open.