"Is that a layer of fat on top?"
Ed, Alaina, Adam, Raphael and I (aka the Serious Eats family of awesome people) were getting our first look at the Berkshire pork rillette while eating a congratulatory, "Hooray, you didn't eff up the redesign!" lunch at the Spotted Pig. It was the first time all five of us ate out as a group, meaning that there wasn't anyone left in the office to look after the site. It vaguely felt as though we had left an infant alone at home to fend for himself and if anything really bad were to happen in his life, it would be at this very point that the bad thing would happen, when the baby was most vulnerable. Like he would suddenly decide that the knobs in the bathtub were the height of all possible amusement, even better than that the stuffed animal cow that mooed when he hugged it, and that he must turn them while sitting in the tub and after a while he would experience a funny floating feeling and...oops, he's dead. Things like that are God's way of saying, "You really shouldn't have left your baby at home by himself."
But God doesn't care about websites and our baby website fared perfectly fine on its own. It didn't drown or poison itself or fall of a window or nuttin! What a good lil' website. So smart. So full of hope for the future.
So...back to our meal. As long as a layer of fat is an intentional part of a dish, it's probably a sign of good things to come. (Example of a bad thing: if your pizza is drowning under a pool of bright orange fat that drips down your hand in rivulets of grease as you lift up a slice. That is wrong.) And as this layer of fat lies atop a mash of pork and spices, that's even more of a sign of good things a-comin'. And, oh, HOW THE GOOD THINGS CAME!
Although you could just eat the rillette with a spoon like some kind of luscious pork dessert (...mmm...), it's best to ease into the porkness with some carbohydrate filler. A plate of grilled bread of some delicious variety that I cannot name did just the trick of easing our mouths into the saturated pork compound that was smooshed upon its cavity-ridden surface.
But...actually, I missed a step. First you smear a thin layer of nose-burning mustard onto the bread before spreading on another layer of pork goo (or do it the other way around if you already spread on the pork goo) and crowning it with a cornichon, aka a tiny pickle that looks like it has a hideous case of warty-bubbly-skin-itis. The retched green knob has obviously never felt love before as its horrifying skin ailment disgusts all those who unfortunately cast a glance in its direction. The knob, it feels nothing. But at least it imparts a pleasant sharp, sour taste to your pork rillette-eating experience!
So we ate that pork rillette to its last bit and it was damn tasty. Moving on.
If the Spotted Pig wanted to advertise their burger, they could truthfully claim that 4 out of 5 Serious Eaters choose the burger. The advertisement would be a bit confusing since it wouldn't say what we choose the burger over ("The other leading gastropub burger!"), but no matter—this is all hypothetical. Ed was the odd man out, deciding that he would rather indulge in a swine-centric cubano than the bovine pattied beast of a sandwich. The remaining four of us gnawed into our perfectly composed burgers, whose top brioche buns were so evenly branded with grill marks that the marks could've been painted on...by Michelangelo...
The medium-rare innards of the smashed meat sphere glowed with angelic pink juiciness as melting Roquefort cheese dribbled into the crevices, mixing with the juices, turning into a new thing altogether that could be marketed under the name, "Beef-Flavored Roquefort Cheese Dribblin's." The bottom bun acted like a sponge for the burger juices, which was a little gross, but still tasty. That too could be marketed under the name, "Beef-Flavored Bread Sponge." Oh, how the consumers would flock!
Ah, but what about the meat itself? It's like a warm pillow of meat-ness. Yeah. With a slight outer crust and a soft belly like a baby kitten. Yeah. A kitten with a hat of strong, earthy cheese. That is one weird-ass cat.
I successfully demolished about 96% of the burger, thus distending my belly into new levels of distension. My mouth destroyed 99.99% of the shoestring fries tossed with rosemary and fried garlic. So delicious. Sooo delicioussss, those fried potato noodlings swaddled in fatty, oily goodness are. Swaddled. Noodlings. Noodlings of swadlage.
And then we retreated back to our air-conditioned office to allow our bodies to churn and waddle the chunk of meat we had ingested.
And now for your stomach-burning break
The following Friday the office ordered delivery from Grand Sichuan International so that we wouldn't have to step into that cold, outside world...the world filled with hot steamy garbage and smells that rise from the pores of New York City's asphalt-covered skin. That world is full of good Chinese food.
This dish, which wasn't called "Fire Breathing Chicken" but could be called that if I were writing the menu, consist of tender chicken chunks smothered in whole chiles that you can't eat unless you want to feel pain beyond your wildest nightmares. But the chiles are important, for they impart their caustic flavors upon their meaty brothers, resulting in really, really spicy hot chicken that tastes like awesome.
Ginger chicken comes with the same ethereally tender chicken bits but instead of chiles contained ginger chunks, green onions and red peppers. Why is it so tasty? Whyyyy?
I also got to eat mapo tofu for the first time, which is now one of my favorite dishes. Who knew that a heaping dish of extra soft, very jiggly tofu cubes crammed into a pool of spicy sauce and beef nibblets could be so good? ...Wait, you did know? Oh. Well. I didn't.
After polishing off a plate or ten of rice accompanied by spicified meats and vegetables, my belly gurgled and burned like a disgruntled fire-breathing dragon whose nasal passages were singed with the ghosts of the fires that had previously passed within them. Oh, my belly...how I clutched thee. Which did absolutely nothing but make me look like I was in more pain than I really was. I thought that maybe I experiencing the early stages of stomach cancer/disintegration, but man...it was so worth it.
Gelato, I heart you, kind of!
The next day I went to a faraway land about 45 minutes out of Manhattan on the subway. A land of residential buildings and Italians (mobsters!) and at least one Outback—Bensonhurst. This is also where my main food/travel/movie buddy Diana sleeps at night. Her presence was a big contributor to why I went out there for the day...or the main one, as I wouldn't have gone out there otherwise.
[On a random note, if you or anyone you know is in need of an insanely talented and reliable illustrator/graphic designer/web designer/photographer, hook up with Diana. Her current job ain't so cool and while she can flex her creative muscles just fine on her own, it's a lot nicer to get paid for it]
Our first stop was Mona Lisa Bakery, an Italian bakery and cafe with a hard-to-miss facade meant to echo the beauty of Italy, except it sits across the street from an Outback (which in turn is supposed to give a sense of Australian-ness) so its rather hard to forget that you're in America.
But step inside and BOOYA, flagellating chandelier!
And a mural on the ceiling! And more crazy stuff that even the Outback cannot claim to have!
Although we went to Mona Lisa mainly for gelato, we decided it would be best to buffer the effects of the gelato with a sandwich. The sandwiches are pretty expensive, this baby stuffed with grilled chicken, broccoli rabe and mozzarella costing around $10, but that may be because they're large enough to split between two people. Or four very small people.
And this sandwich...ooh...it was rather dreamy. The slightly chewy bread was toasted to the point of developing a thin, crispy shell, kind of like a good pizza crust. And I do love my crust. Chicken was tender and juicy, broccoli rabe was...seasoned with something but I'm not sure what, and melted fresh mozzarella stretched its gooey wonder in thick, sweet strands like no other cheese dares to do because if it tries the mozzarella will KICK ITS ASSSSSS.
Yeah, I like mozzarella a lot. It kicks ass.
We were now prepped for gelato. For our three-scoop dish we chose black cherry, pistachio and gianduja, which were topped with unnecessary whipped cream and a shortbread cookie of some sort. The gelato was super creamy and smooth without any gumminess and had fairly strong flavors, which for me makes it well above average. I wouldn't say head out to Bensonhurst for it, but if you're close by it's definitely worth going to.
You also must check out their menu, which seems to have been produced without a copy editor. The back of the menu explained the lengths to which the owner went to decorate and build the restaurant in an authentic Italian way:
The entire internal structure of Mona Lisa Pastry Shoppe and Cafe was built in Italy. The creator of the Shoppe came from Italy, took all the measurements, then went back to Italy to design and assemble it in their own warehouses. When they were finished, they dismantled everything (when I say everything, I mean everything) and sent it to Brooklyn. It arrive here in three shipping containers and was custom fitted by the Italian technicians. As you can see the owner has spared no expense to give his patrons a European environment as well as the European delicacies in which the whole family can enjoy.
Ye damn right no expense was spared.
Our next stop was famous Italian bakery Villabate, where I heard they make a mean gelato sandwich using a brioche bun. Although I saw a large case of the buns atop the gelato case, my stomach cried, "NO, YOU'RE KIND OF FULL, NO BREAD PLZ," so I settled for an inedible paper vessel. The young woman behind the counter packed in as much gelato-matter as she could while scooping the pistachio and Ferrero Rocher flavors for my cup. Really, five minutes of labor right there. I hope they pay her well.
We stepped out of the semi-crowded bakery to dig into our cup of overflowing dairy-ness and straight into the sticky humid wrath of Mother Nature, who wanted nothing but to destroy the lives of frozen beings everywhere. Our cup of gelato started to turn into a pool of gelato base. Crap. So we ate fast. And while eating fast, realized that this gelato wasn't so awesome. The Ferrero Rocher was alright, but the pistachio was missing...pistachio taste. The only parts of it that tasted of pistachio were the pistachio bits, while the green cream they were suspended it held little pistachio essence. Damn. Besides that, the texture wasn't very smooth or creamy. After eating gelato from Mona Lisa, we were disappointed with Villabate's and threw our the half-eaten cup laden with sticky gelato guts.
We spent the rest of the hot afternoon in Diana's room where we could comfortably freeze under the icy blasts of her air conditioner. Mmm...sweet sweet AC...
Random note about randomness
I'm going to Phoenix next week for a little vacation. You wouldn't really notice considering how little I update this blog anyway (I'm slow, I'm sorry, I JUST CAN'T DEW IT, cos when I get home at 10 or 11 PM after working and eating and editing photos my brain goes beepbeepboopmelt) but I thought I'd remind you anyway. Of course, I'm bringing Mr. Laptop with me so I can continue to procrastinate with updating my blog.
YAY, THE 'ZONA AWAITS ME!!!