[A note from your friendly blogger: I'm not in Phoenix anymore—I'm back in THE JERZ! I hope to have the rest of the Phoenix entries up by the end of the week. If you want more Phoenix action, read my review of Pizzeria Bianco on Slice. I'll write another version for this blog, aka one that is more mindless and wandering and has lots of made up words. PREPARE YOURSELVES.]
[Another note, 8/14/07: I have another review up on Serious Eats for Pane Bianco.]
I'm happy to report that I have finally ingested the meaty juices of the legendary In-N-Out, legendary for those of us who have read about its unsurpassable deliciousness for the past few years but reside on the In-N-Out-less side of America, also known as "The Region of Sadness." It might be strange to be a little thankful that I'm not surrounded by In-N-Outs, but that's because I'm afraid that if I were I would eat there all the freakin' time.
Although I knew about the secret menu I decided to try the basic cheeseburger topped with raw onion with a side order of fries and a vanilla milkshake, as recommended by my friend Karen. (Other non-secret menu items are the hamburger, the double hamburger, fries, and your basic drinks and milkshakes.) How pretty is this burger? Don't you just wanna hug it? Caress its fluffy bun? DONCHA?
(A small aside: I'm currently typing this on my flight back to New Jersey and had considered getting an animal style burger to take on the plane with me before leaving Phoenix, but decided against it since I was too stuffed from lunch to think about eating a mass of grilled onions and tasty sauce and patties of delicious meat. Of course, now that I've been on the plane for a few hours I wish I had a burger to snack on, even if it had been sitting in my bag for a few hours. I suppose I'm better off without the calories though. Yeah...yeah...)
The burgers, THEY LOVE YOU!!!
You don't need me to tell you this, but man...this burger is really tasty, especially when you consider that it costs less than $2. My burger, fries and shake totaled under $6, or less than the price of many mediocre burgers in NYC. This is not fair man...just not fair. But back to the burger.
My first bite was a mix of crispy grilled bun, crunchy raw onion, melted gooey cheese, tender, juicy burger patty, fresh crisp lettuce (hand leafed, yo), somehow not loathsome tomato slices (I usually dislike raw tomato in burger or sandwiches because they slither out on their trail of frictionless tomato goo) and tangy sauce that I assume is something like mayonnaise and ketchup. Each ingredient was in perfect proportion with the other. The burger was a beautiful rainbow of tastes and colors sandwiched between an impressively tasty bun that was super-soft without being flimsy and grilled to form a micro-shield against the treasures withiiiiin.
The only complaint I have is just a matter of personal preference: I should've done without the raw onion because my body rejects raw onions. My taste buds may like them and the sudden sharp jolt they bring to my sinuses, but eating raw onion results in an entire day of feeling like onion fumes are being expelled out of every one of my pores. Seriously. All day the strong taste of onion lingered in my mouth, which gave me the impression that it was festering on every inch of my body even if no one else could smell it. I don't think this could just be me, but I suppose most people don't have this problem. Despite knowing my body's weakness towards raw onions, I still eat them every now and then. And promptly regret it. I suppose it was worth feeling like a gross, smelly onion for a day to eat the burger though.
The fries, which we saw being sliced from whole potatoes, were well salted and...potato-y. Overall, a taste that I approve of. If you like your fries soft then these babies were made for you, but I prefer those of McDonald's-crispy caliber. If I went back to In-N-Out I'd definitely order them "well done," or possibly "extra well done" if that choice exists. You can also get them underdone if
you're weird you like realllly soft fries. I'm under the impression that you can get cooked almost however you want (I don't know if they'll give you a tray of uncooked fries), meaning that they should fit anyone's tastes.
The shake passed the Robyn-test with flying colors of face-sucking thickness. I mean, it's very thick. Face-suckingly thick. It may be almost too thick, but it's better to lean on that side than on the side of being milk-thin, which is SAD and WRONG and SHOULD BE PUNISHABLE BY 50 WHIP LASHES TO THE BACK. I am so, so not a fan of thin milkshakes—just throw a glass of milk at me, why don't ya? If I can either drink my shake with a straw (with some difficulty) or eat it with a spoon then I know that all is well and that the hundreds of sinful calories are going to a good cause.
I was too busy talking about food and stuff to introduce you to the people who accompanied me in my eating adventure. You already know Lee Anne, my adorable and friendly hostess, but for those of you who are still reading this, we were also accompanied by the one and only KAREN! KAREN CHOW! THE KAREN! The...okay, why is this significant? Well.
Lee Anne and I are frequently asked how we became friends. The short answer is that we were brought together by the awesome power that is Karen. Karen was my best friend and classmate in 6th and 7th grade when we went to school in Taipei. By "best friends" I mean we talked on the phone too often, chatted on ICQ too often, went to Japan together (just once, not too often), played with beanie babies too often (I'd rather not expound upon this), did stuff, blah dee blah blah blah, etc.
When we moved back to the US I returned to New Jersey while she moved to Oregon and then later to Arizona. During high school she befriended Lee Anne and...BOOYA...Lee Anne came to know me and...BOOYA...yes, I will stop saying booya. That's the story. Kind of. Missing a few details here and there, but you get the general idea. Or maybe you don't, but I ought to stop rambling.
Even though I lost touch with Karen, she's one of those people (and I suppose vice versa) around whom I think I will always feel totally comfortable and at ease to act like a goofball. Like Lee Anne! Like a handful of other people. When I spotted Karen in the parking lot I practically shrieked,
To which she responded with laughter and...well, I think that was it. No horror. If she was scared, she hid it well. Like a professional spy or someone who frequently deals with scary people. While my laugh has become increasingly maniacal with age (meaning that I should sound like a raving lunatic by the time I'm 40), hers has retained its giggly cuteness from middle school. Or maybe my memory's going. Possibly. It's hard for me to explain this goofy personality I have where I say dumb things in weird tones and stretch my face into abnormal expressions while saying the aforementioned strange things in weird tones, but I only do it around certain people (the ones that I think will find it funny, which aren't many) and...that's pretty much my favorite state of being.
Sigh. BACK TO FOOOOOD!
Lee Anne suggested we go to Lollicup for boba drinks. I never heard of the West coast-based Lollicup before, but Karen obviously had without knowing it existed in her backyard. Her eyes grew large at the prospect of Lollicupping and with a excited twinkle in her eye she exclaimed, "WHAT? There's a LOLLICUP HERE? YEAH LET'S GO!!!" And then she plowed us over—paying no attention to the crack of our heads hitting the pavement and our writhing, bloodied bodies—as she clamored into the driver's seat.
They really are all about the boba, as seen on this educational poster in the shop's window. Behold, an overly-detailed diagram of what boba is. I guess the description of "wonderfully chewy in the middle," "naturally sweet in the center" and "slight soft on the outside" is pretty spot-on, although it leaves out the part where your stomach feels like it has a bowling ball in it due to the boba expanding as it digests (a strange phenomenon, yeah). I've been drinking boba-filled beverages since the beginning of high school, but you might be surprised that I don't love them to death. There is a story behind this. Oh yes, a story.
...Not an exciting story.
So. Boba. Those weird chewy pearls that interrupt your drinking experience. I used to love boba drinks, which I could only infrequently get while living in New Jersey since I could pretty much only find them during trips to Chinatown, but at some point I had hit my boba threshold. It was only a year or two ago when on a hot summer afternoon I was drinking a cup of boba something-or-other from Quickly on Grand Street with Diana. We stood around in the nearby park watching sweaty people playing basketball while gulping down our drinks when I looked at the mountain of boba in my nearly liquid-less cup and thought,
"Man, I am so sick of eating this boba. It's chewy. It's in the way of my drink. I DON'T WANT ALL THIS BOBA, OH DEAR GOD."
And that was it. Quite an anticlimactic epiphany, I'll admit. I didn't stop drinking boba drinks after that, but I think I consumed them very sparingly as those black, gelatinous balls continued to haunt me.
Taro is my favorite drink flavor, but there was no way I could suck up all those chewy boba spheres. Nuh. After getting all the sweet, milky, mildly taro-flavored liquid out of the cup I was left with a mountain of abandoned boba. Aw...well.
Karen ordered a medium boba milk tea (or maybe it was a large) and ate all of the boba. She would totally whip my ass in a boba-eating contest.
And the next day, I ate more stuff
The next day Mrs. Shaffer had made us a delicious simple lunch of sugar snap peas, carrots, onion and chicken for one dish and scrambled eggs and chopped tomato for the other. I never had the scrambled egg dish before, but Lee Anne said it was a common Chinese dish. A home-y soul food-ish type thing. What other tasty Chinese things am I missing out on? WHAT ELSE?
Not pickled cucumbers. Now this is something I do remember from my youth as a topping for congee. I highly disliked congee, a dish that never made much sense to me because bland watery rice was about as appealing to me as sucking on a wet dishtowel. (I've also had the blended version, which tastes better but doesn't win a spot on my "list of things I ever crave.") However, I've always accepted the stuff that went on top of congee, like...PICKLED CUCUMBERS. (And pork floss.) So what is it about Chinese pickled cucumbers that's so awesome? I dunno. I don't even know how to describe them since when I eat them I just think, "Oh, these taste like Chinese pickled cucumbers." No shit. And the color red looks red. Would you accept my description of the crispy cucumbers that they're sweet with a hint of tartness? You're gonna have to. I bought two jars of them at the Chinese supermarket yesterday and one jar is already almost empty. I don't know if it's something you'd find incredibly tasty if you didn't grow up eating it, but it won't kill you or anything.
Chilled sweet mung bean soup was another Chinese dish I remembered from ages ago but hadn't eaten in...er, ages. The recipe is simple, basically mung beans, water, and sugar, but you can add coconut milk or condensed milk for a thicker soup. It's refreshing and not overpoweringly sweet or...well, not overpoweringly anything. Just light and refreshing with bean matter here and there. BEHOLD, THE BEANS. They have power you know not.
After lunch Mrs. Shaffer took Lee Anne, Kimberly and me to Angel Sweet for gelato. I liked how neatly they piled the gelato in their containers, like mammoth multicolored beehives, pulsating with the delight of fruits and nuts and chocolates and other non-bee matter.
After staring at the case for too long I settled on cheesecake and strawberry. They had pistachio, but it tasted too much like "not pistachio" for me to think it was worth getting. I can't complain about the strawberry—it tasted like...strawberry. Strawberry in smooth, creamy and light form. I've found strawberry to be pretty reliable, unlike pistachio whose flavor can range from vanilla to peanut to—occasionally—pistachio. The cheesecake could've used more flavor, but the crunchy graham cracker bits dispersed throughout it were a nice touch.
Lee Anne's lemon sorbet and panna cotta was a better combination. The panna cotta was nearly heavenly with its super smooth, dense and buttery texture. Buttery. Yes, much buttery essence was there. Lemon provided a good foil to the butterness.
I didn't try much of Kimberly's fruits of the forest and dark chocolate. It's pretty though. See? [points]
Overall I'd say Arlecchino was better than Angel Sweet, but Angel Sweet gets props for paddling their gelato into the cups instead of scooping them. Gelato DEMANDS paddling—am I right? Right. It doesn't matter if you disagree; I'll just cover my ears and hum a song.
We took some silly photos, like this one where neither Kimberly nor I were ready.
And this one, where Lee Anne and I were ready.
We walked over to the nearby Bashas' to kill some time. I ended up buying a few bags of Poore Brothers potato chips (pretty good stuff and they survived sitting in my check-in luggage during the flight home) while Kimberly got a bag of hot lime-flavored Cheetos. I don't know if it's a regional thing, but if they sell it in NYC I may have never noticed it because I don't follow the latest in Cheetos development. The bag doesn't lie; these Cheetos are friggin' hot with just a hint of lime. You get used to the burning sensation and subsequent loss of feeling in your mouth after chomping down a crapload of 'em though. At least, I did. Woo!
For dinner Lee Anne prepared a dish using her grandmother's recipe of kao fu, cabbage, mushrooms, bamboo shoots and other vegetarian friendly things seasoned with chicken broth (I suppose that's not vegetarian friendly...oops), rock sugar, salt, soy sauce, chicken bouillon (nor that), and 'shroom juice (aka the water the mushrooms were soaked in). Although I'm sure I've had kao fu before (a light, spongy form of wheat gluten), I don't recall ever having eaten this kind of dish. It's good! Why can't I stuff Lee Anne in my luggage and taker her home and subject her to a life as my KITCHEN SLAAVE?...oh wait, that'd be wrong/illegal. She's also probably find a way to cut herself loose from my shackles using nothing more than a toothpick. Lee Anne is very resourceful.
The whole Shaffer family (plus a Robyn) sat down to a dinner of kao fu, roasted chicken, and shrimp and vegetables. Pleased, I was.
After dinner we went to Lee Anne's friend Emily's house for a party involving friends, family and food (and one stranger, being...me!).
The best thing there was this insane fruit tart made from a GIANT COOKIE (although the handmade meat buns come in at a second place). GIANT. COOKIE. A cookie the size of a large pie. Has anyone done this before? A giant cookie may not be traditional or as refined as your standard pate brisee, but it's damn tasty. Because it's a giant cookie. Topped with fruits and cream. This cookie was totally pimped.
Three more days of Arizona are a-coming. Just wait a while. Wait as I cuddle my manatee. Heehe, heeheehee, mweh heh, BWAHAHAHA!!!
[pets manatee, calms down]