July 15, 2007
Otto, Ginger and Spice, El Castillo de Jagua and Fancy Food Show aftermath
I'd happily eat any kind of gelato, whether good or bad. At least, if given the choice between mediocre ice cream and mediocre gelato, I'd pick the gelato. I suppose the best decision would be to choose neither and save my taste buds for a more worthy cause, but it's just a hypothetical situation. I can do anything in a hypothetical situation. Hell, I can FLYYYYYY!!!
Preferably, I'd be stuck with good gelato. Or better than good. "Close to godliness" good. Or, "This is God reincarnated as a frozen, sweet, spoonable dessert that comes in a wide variety of delicious flavors, like the humans he created!" good. Otto's gelato is the last kind. Yeah, yeah, I know Grom is today's "it" gelateria, but as they don't offer both caramel and olive oil gelato (at least, I don't think they do), they lose against Otto.
A lot of people ask me about the olive oil gelato. "WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE?" Well, imagine extra virgin olive oil. And...that it. Okay, imagine it in sweet, creamy gelato form. Now that's it. Fat-flavored gelato. As awesome as it may be, it's easy to say that harboring any dislike for olive oil will result in distaste towards the gelato version. On the other hand, if you love olive oil then you may experience a new level of joy (because it's not everyday you're eating a piece of God reincarnated) when you pop that first salt-sprinkled spoonful into your mouth. Your initial reaction may be one of horror—"WTF, this dessert tastes like olive oil, ew ew ew what,"—followed by the happy realization that it actually tastes really good.
But that's just my opinion.
Oh, the caramel. Caramel of my dreams. No wait, caramel of the dreams I haven't even had yet because I suck so much at dreaming that I didn't know caramel could taste so good. The flavor of Otto's caramel gelato changes over time—I daresay it...undulates. (Why I had to "daresay" it and not just "normal" say it, I don't know. "Undulates" is not a very normal word.) It starts off slightly bitter and caramel-y (no duh), but finishes in the back of your throat with a hint-o-salt. It's like two flavors in one! Or five flavors in one! A lot of stuff is going on at the same time, but nothing overpowers the other. It's just sweeeeeeet caramel gelato graaprharhagghs [wipes up drool]
Yeah, I love gelato. Oh, my cup also contained pistachio gelato. Of course it was good, but it wasn't as good as the others flavors. Poor little guy didn't stand a chance.
The second most awesome thing at Otto is their pizza. Arguably. There are some Otto haterz out there—this isn't your average pizza—but I think there are more people like me who love the super thin crust, which retains soft, mildly chewy pizza crust-ness as opposed to turning into a giant cracker, lightly topped with just enough sauce and cheese and whatnot to keep a perfect crust-to-topping ratio without making the crust soggy and gimpy. Carol and I ordered the same pizza, the special of the day topped with eggplant, ricotta cheese and chopped mint leaves along with sliced peppers. EGGPLANT, RICOTTA, AND MINT, people. Surely that combination would elicit an "OMGmusthavethat" reaction from you like it did from Carol and me. Unsurprisingly, it was really freakin' good. I paid my respects to the pizza by eating the entire thing.
Ginger and Spice
Never would I have guessed that at the strip mall off Route 17 near my condo, in between the giant Kohl's and Panera Bread, was an Asian fusion restaurant. The exterior of Ginger and Spice in no way prepares you for the spacious, high-ceilinged, sleek modern interior that looks like it came straight out of...Asia. Or at least not suburban New Jersey.
My mum and I sat in a long booth whose wooden benches were backed by frosted glass paneling lit from the inside. Each table sat atop a floor inlayed with stones and was accompanied by...a flat screen TV? A little one. I'm not sure what for as none of the TVs was on, but I had the power to watch TV if I so desired. The powerrrr.
We started off with salt and pepper calamari, "hand battered with 'angry' flour, seasoned with sweet peppers, Thai chili, scallions and served with curry aioli." The angry flour coating was very light—I would've preferred something a little heavier to give crispiness and a little more "anger" for spicier flavor—but lended some kind of...pleasing textural difference. I dipped everything in the aioli sauce for some of the spicy kick. Not bad, but could be better.
My spider roll, stuffed with tempura fried soft shell crab, cucumber, red peppers, and avocado topped with some more of that aioli (NO SPIDERS) was pretty good, although not, "Oh my god I need this again" good. I think it would've been better without the red peppers, which tasted out of place.
My mum will always get crab cakes if its on a menu, perhaps in the same way that I'd gravitate towards duck confit. While I don't remember much about her crab cakes (they're not a favorite dish of mine), I recall liking the salad. Or...the salad dressing, since that's really what you're tasting. Unfortunately, I couldn't tell what the dressing was made of because MY TASTE BUDS SUCK; all I know is that my taste buds liked whatever they were being slathered with. There was this hint of something that reminded me of mint, some kind of floral oil, but it definitely wasn't mint. And I could actually have imaged it allll in my head since my mum had no idea what I was talking about. It may have just been a very flowery honey—we were pretty sure the dressing was honey-sweetened. Otherwise, I DO NOT KNOW WHAT WAS IN IT, and now the mysteries of the salad dressing will haunt me until I die. Or until I go back to the restaurant and ask what's in the dressing.
We were too stuffed to get dessert, one of the more unfortunate consequences of not having a bottomless stomach. For another review of Ginger and Spice, check out Big Apple Dining Guide.
All hail the mighty cubano
Yes, I finally got the $4 cubano from El Castillo de Jagua. Diana and I popped in there before going to the Sunshine Cinema to see Broken English (my short movie review being, "It was alright and earns a few extra points for being in Paris").
For $4 I don't think you can do much better than this sandwich. In between the pressed, grilled bread halves are layers of juicy, tender roast pork, ham, cheese (which was hardly perceptible, fine with me), tangy pickle slices and what may have been mayo, although apparently cubanos aren't supposed to have...mayo? Eh, whatever, I like mayo. The combination of all these ingredients results in this ridiculously tasty sandwich oozing with the comforting flavors of porkiness and fat cut by the pickles and whose soft texture is interrupted by the satisfying crunch of the bread, which is thankfully non-greasy. This sandwich could've been more compressed, but I have no complaints. Cheap. Filling. Pork. That is Robyn-food.
As Diana ate her entire chicken sandwich and I consider her to be pickier than I am (easy since I'm...um, not that picky), I'm going to assume it was a good sandwich. She considered taking half of it home, but instead took off one of the slices of bread off the other half and ate it as an open-faced sandwich so she wouldn't be overstuffed. I should've done that with my sandwich too; I was so stuffed I could barely eat dessert.
We both ordered the $1.50 flan. It may look like an innocent little caramel sauce-coated cube of puddingly goodness, but it was surprisingly dense and very sweet. I couldn't finish it! I failed! Diana actually finished her whole cube and ATE MY LEFTOVER FLAN BITS. If you know Diana, she is a wee lil' person (I mean, if I fell on top of her she'd be a goner) and tends to eat small portions. She also isn't nearly as into sweets as I am—I tend to take the role of "dessert garbage disposal" when we eat out—yet look how the tables have turned. OH THE MONSTROSITY! I wonder if I'm a bad influence on her.
I should keep in mind that I spent my morning chomping through the nutritional void Fancy Food Show, which could explain why I wasn't up to eating the whole flan cube. Oh, Fancy Food Show...I'll get to that in a bit.
I'd put El Castillo de Jagua on my short list of restaurants I like so much that I've visited them at least three times. It won't change your life and might possibly give you sodium poisoning, but it's reliable...porky...and inexpensive. Score.
Food, food, food...too much food
Last Tuesday I went to the Fancy Food Show with Ed, not because I had any important role to play but because I had never been to one of these behemoth food conventions before and I couldn't be a Serious Eater without such a life-changing experience.
I had never been to Jacob Javits Center before. It is quite large. I mean, it feels like a small city contained within walls of metal supports and glass. And when you walk into the exhibition halls (the lower level was where the real action was), your eyes are met with row after row after row to the 100th power of stalls touting their product as the most awesome thing out there, whether that be a microwavable meat-filled snack or a gourmet chocolate bar or a flavored water or line of roasted nuts or Meals in a Muffin. Think of the endlessness of Walmart—if you stand in a certain place the aisles seem to reach infinity—but with packaged food
It's frightening. I looked over this kingdom of free samples and didn't know where to start. I didn't really want to start since there was no way I would really be able to eat everything I wanted without requiring a stomach pump. Thankfully, Ed encouraged me to get over the irrational fear of trying stuff and got me to...try stuff, most of which occurred at the Garrison Confections booth.
My photos are mostly on the higher end of sucking (or the lower end of being good), so here's one of the better ones.
Andrew Schotts, the chocolatier who created the mountains of chocolate pieces before my eyes, said I could eat half of the piece and toss the other half. Throw out chocolate? I had never heard of such a thing in my life. It's like...like why would you do that? Sadly, eating tiny bites is a necessity if you are to live through a food convention.
But I didn't eat half. I ate the whole thing. "She's new to this," he remarked. Oh yes. I'm the foolish noob who eats three chocolate pieces (lemon cupcake, banana passion fruit, and some sort of plum thing, all very good) and three chocolate covered toffees (which, due to Andrew's penchant for using as much butter as he can, resulted in non-sticky toffee chunks that effortlessly crunched like what I would expect the texture of compressed angel wings to resemble, ANGEL WINGS) and subsequently doesn't want to eat chocolate ever again. Or at least for the rest of the day.
Besides the chocolate I also had some excellent mango sorbet from Ciao Bella, cherry ice cream from Gianni, lightly sweetened soda from Kristall and chocolate covered salted caramels from Fran's Chocolates.
Ed had to go back to the office so I wandered around for a while longer. A visit to the upper level was disappointing, rather boring and more corporate. The bottom level is where it's at.
I walked back to the office since it was only about 10 blocks and two avenues away, but I failed to think about the consequences of walking in intense heat and humidity while lugging around a stomach filled primarily with ice cream and chocolate (you know, the lovely combination of sugar and fat). By the time I got back to the office I felt a few steps closer to death. Or dehydration. Downing a bottle of Snapple and sitting in an air conditioned box made me feel better after a while.
Posted by roboppy at 4:54 PM
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