Not your tourist’s NYC pizza

Posted from New York, New York, United States.

New York is famous for bagels, pizza, pastrami, and cheesecake. Having had 3 of the 4, I decided it was time to hunt down some phenomenonal pizza. We were in midtown for a movie, the center of tourist trap pizza joints. After some research Don Antonio by Starita topped the list. At 3pm on a rainy December Monday the line was out the door, a good omen.

Of course everyone thinks NY pizza is huge greasy thin slice, but a surge in craft restaurants are fill no the city with stone ovens, local ingredients, and everything else that marks modern fine dining. Don Antonio is a standout in this promising trend. For 3 people we opted for 2 pizzas.

The first is their specialty, a basic Margherita but with a twist. The dough is lightly fried before going in the oven, making it fluffy and crispy. Everyone making a bruschetta crust is actually trying to replicate this masterpiece. Great texture with sharp tomato sauce to cut the oil, but much saltier than I’d expect. In fact, everyone agreed it was saltier than the next pizza which was covered in cured meats.

I give you “The Butcher” with sausage, prosciutto, salami, ham, and more. The savory umami flavors just stack and stack on these large foldable slices. This is the first “meat lover’s” pizza that lives up to the name.

Are these great pizzas? Absolutely. Are they the best pizza I’ve had? No. which makes me seriously doubt New York’s claim for the best pizza in the world.

Shake it baby

Posted from New York, New York, United States.

Admittedly, I have a bit of an axe to grind.  After years of drooling, the famous New York-based Shake Shack finally opened an LA location where the lines are insane. Naturally they waited until after literally selling out with an IPO. While they were small and still private, they had a Dubai location, but snubbed LA. So when there are two locations inside malls walking distance from each other near my inlaws on Queens Boulevard, I feel like the LA wait was maliciously intentional. But, they don’t have In ‘N Out, so not sure if that balances out.

Speaking of In ‘N Out, I’m a huge fan of their secret menu. So upon seeing Cheese Fries on the menu at Shake Shack, I had to get some.

I was not expecting the high school cafeteria cut and the cheese looks like nacho sauce, not the slice of grilled American I figured they’d be copying. Nonetheless, the fries were addictively crispy, and the sauce had a satisfyingly cheesy flavor. The wooden fork is necessary not for keeping your hands clean, but rather to force the fries down into the pool of sauce forming at the bottom of the basket.

I selected a double SmokeShack burger, two beef patties, bacon, and a mountain of cheese squeezed onto a far too small bun. The patties are a bit on the salty side, so when combined with the bacon, this was over salted for my west coast tastes. The sauce didn’t seem to add any flavor, just moisture. I had a hard time finding the cherry peppers, but they did add a pleasant spice and pickled flavor to every bite that cuts through and balances the cheese. Overall a pretty good burger.

So what about their namesake? Even December, I feel it’s my duty to have a shake.

Figuring it’s best to go with what’s not common, I grabbed the coffee shake that proudly brags to be fare-trade. On first sip I was shocked. Though the color belies it, this shake had more coffee flavor than any I’ve previously had. Coffee is tricky in a shake because the ratio is already up unbalanced compared to a latte. Add too little coffee and you get no flavor at all, too much and it gets icy instead of creamy, use powders and it will turn grainy. This suffered none of those flaws. It was smooth, creamy, rich, and was a perfect latte in milkshake form.

Overall, Shake Shack seems to be a great choice if you are nearby, and if there’s no wait. But at a price tag of over $20 for the above meal, I’d rather go elsewhere to In ‘N Out or any of the hundreds of gastropubs in LA that feature better burgers and better prices. We’re just spoiled that way.

Do do that Voodoo that you do.

Posted from Portland, Oregon, United States.

Apparently mid afternoon on a weekday before 3pm is the perfect time to slip into this Portland culinary landmark, Voodoo Doughnuts. I had heard horror stories about hours-long lines. I slipped inside with only 20 people ahead of me. But by the time I walked out at 3:20, the lines started wrapping outside.

The selections are impressive. With over 200 donut flavors, the owners are constantly swapping them about and adding unique new options. I didn’t know where to start, but since I’m traveling with the wife and a friend, we can get several to share and try more varieties.

So let’s dive in. First we have a bacon maple bar. The cake is thankfully unsweetened, and the bar on the small side, both of which help balance what can usually be an overly sweet donut. The cake was slightly tangy, perhaps partially fermented like sourdough? The glaze was clearly made from real maple and not some medicinal artificial flavoring. The bacon, while nowhere near the best bacon, was perfectly cooked so that it had a chewy crumble texture without being burnt. How often have you eaten something with bacon that resulted in the entire strip pulling off when you took a bite? Not here.

Go coocoo for Cocoa Puffs? Don’t mind if I do! Chocolate cake with chocolate glaze and chocolate cereal.

Classic characters deserve classic donuts. The Homer is simple sponge cake with a pink strawberry glaze and sprinkles. Again, not overly sweet. Drooool…

This next one looks like an ordinary sugar donut, but it’s not. That’s actually a cinnamon and brown sugar dusting. And inside? Pumpkin cream filling with all the spice and goodness of pumpkin pie.

After that we have a bowl of kids cereal. A plain donut with a milk-white frosting is topped with Trix and Captain Crunch. While it looks fun, it’s just a mess of sugar, and in the Portland humidity, the cereal gets stale fast. I guess that might be a good thing though, since it means the Captain Crunch can’t fill its reputation for ripping up the roof of your mouth. Im sure this one is popular on Saturday mornings.

Viscous Hibiscus is a simple donut with a sweet and tangy hibiscus glaze and chocolate sprinkles.

And finally my last selection. Same donut base, but topped with Oreo cookies and a peanut butter glaze. This one is probably my favorite, but after the barrage of donuts before it, I’m almost tapped-out. I wish I had started here.

Sky-high views (and prices)

Posted from Portland, Oregon, United States.

I certainly felt underdressed as we entered Departure on the 15th floor at the edge of old town Portland wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. Once clearing the elevator you’re greeted with a glowing mirrored lobby worthy of Space Mountain leading into a Liebeskind-inspired lounge. Wrapping around a central bar, you have fantastic views out over Portland and the river, but the elevation doesn’t justify the crazy high drink prices – $21 for Oban 14 as an example and $100 for the famous Yamazaki 18.

The food is a different story where they’re clearly taking dietary restrictions seriously. This is the first time I’ve seen a place with a “nightshade-safe” menu, and they  asked about a dozen times if my wife was OK with certain dishes, almost freaking out when she selected a dish that they hadn’t cleared. After the reassurances that she wouldn’t go into anaphylactic shock, we ordered some drinks and dove into the tapas-like Asian fusion menu.

The first plate to come out was crispy pork belly with a sweet and tangy chili sauce made from rice vinegar and honey. Topped with pumpkin seeds and cilantro, we’re in for a real treat if this is representative of the menu.

BBQ short rib buns have a luscious and tender shredded pork with a hoisin sweet sauce topped with a spicy buttery Mexican coleslaw that perfectly complements the fatty pork.

Next up a smoked salmon roll served with real wasabi. Crispy cucumber chives and salmon is tipped with a spicy smokey mayo that sears the tip of your tongue pleasantly. I’m not usually a fan of seafood, but I would certainly order this again.

Izakaya steak – 4.5 ounces of Wagu beef on a hot stone served with some sweet pickled vegetables. Dip the beef multiple times in the ginger-sesame-soy sauce and return it to the stone to keep it from overcooking and to build up an amazing caramelized and savory sear. DO NOT let this beautiful tender beef over cook. It is already perfectly done when brought to the table.

Then too fill us up, garlic fried rice with an egg on top. Delicious, but no crunchy bits and I would have doubled the garlic.

Overall very delicious and glad we came, even given the flaws. It’s worth the views, but perhaps not the price.

Brunch it up Portland-style

Posted from Portland, Oregon, United States.

Wow we should have gotten up earlier. With a 2 hour wait, Tasty n Alder better be worth it. After Blue Star Donuts to tide us over, we finally slip in for a table after an hour and a half. Portlandians apparently love their brunching, so with a plethora of locally-sourced quality ingredients, we should be in for a treat.

The menu has about 40 distinct dishes, not to mention sides. Everything is served family-style, so come with a group to take advantage of the variety.

The place is a pretty impressive cocktail bar with a distinguished selection of spirits, so go for a breakfast libation n. Here we have a classic Bloody Mary with house-made pickled vegetables, and a unique “Dim Somemore” with hoisin, siracha, and ginger garnish.

The Bim Bop Bowl – a super hot stone bowl filled with rice. Stir it up for those delicious crunchy bits, gooey eggs, kim chi, and galbi bacon. What’s not to love?
Follow it up with the Cowboy Breakfast. Slices of perfectly seared flank steak sit on top of an amazing tortilla with an over-easy egg, delicious red beans, and a perfectly-spiced fresh salsa.

I’m not going to be able to eat for days after this. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely!