Holy De Mole.

So, I’ve officially been a Sunnysider for nearly seven days now, commuted to and from work successfully for three out of those seven, and am generally settling into the neighborhood. Naturally, for me, that means checking out the food. Unfortunately, Menupages.Com only covers Manhattan and Brooklyn, so I’ve had to resort to Yelp.Com to familiarize myself with the local cuisine.  It’s one thing to walk past a storefront and take note of the name, it’s another thing entirely to know if the kitchen is worthwhile. The Yelp reviews, while limited, do help a bit. Several new places have sprung up since I last lived in the area, and, of course, there are several old places that I’m not familiar with because I was such a basketcase when I moved here initially that I didn’t venture beyond a three block radius. 

This time around, I’m determined to be more adventurous.

I have actually made the effort and gotten takeout twice this week (I know, I know, not cost effective. Sue me.). First, from Dee Thai at 46-17 Queens Blvd., because I was craving Thai food liek woah. I have a basic Thai restaurant test: The pad thai test. If you screw up something as basic as pad thai noodles, odds are your restaurant isn’t worth a damn. And I think I’ve mentioned before that I have bizarre standards, thanks to being spoiled rotten by Phan Shin, the local go-to in my hometown. So, the last time I had pad thai, from Red Curry in the city, it scarred me for life. It was pathetic. Luckily, the same cannot be said for Dee Thai’s version. It was delicious. The portion lasted me two nights. The chicken was perfectly cooked and in small pieces in so as to mix with the noodles and the sprouts, not sit there like chunks on top. I also got fried tofu, which you’d have to pretty dumb to screw up. It came with a delicious peanut chili sauce that might have to go on my Condiment Lick list. Further testing must occur. ;)

Then, tonight, I broke down and made the trek down to De Mole, on the corner of 48th Avenue and 45th St. It has tons of reviews on Yelp and is apparently considered THE best Mexican restaurant in the area. Now, with a reputation like that, how could I not try it out? I actually have to give myself credit because I’ve been looking at restaurant write ups for the last four days and it took me that entire stretch of time to break down and hightail it to De Mole. I tried to resist, I really did. I paced. I angsted. I told myself I could eat a variety of Lean Cuisines I had in my freezer. But, alas, the lure was too great. So a brisk five minute walk took me to the tiny but really cute and neat restaurant. It’s not a hole in the wall at ALL. I kept my order basic (at some point I clearly have to try their mole sauce, see if it’s lickable, etc.), and just got tacos pastor, which were pork and pineapple tacos, and guac and chips. Is the guac as good as El Rio Grande’s? No. In fact, it could benefit from some more salt and chilis, but it was still good. And the homemade chips had the salt that the guacamole didn’t. (Cautionary note: If you have paper cuts or you clipped your nails too closely, the chips will sting.) The tacos, meanwhile, were great. The marinated chunks of pork had a distinctly pineapple-y flavor, there were bits of actual pineapple, too, along with chopped onion and cilantro, and there were two soft tortillas on each taco instead of just one, which definitely helped the structural integrity. Verdict? Muy bueno! Definitely worth the hype. It’s good, it’s cheap, and it’s filling. I’ll be going back to try other dishes, like their enchilada con mole poblano, their coconut flan, etc.

But not that soon. Freezer. Lean Cuisine. Etc. I must try to be strong and space my fits of gluttony out.

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Every once in a while I experience a culinary triumph.

I’m happy to say that I have graduated from the “Pasta ala Mala” school of throwing together Ragu sauces and Starkist tuna and actually delved into being a little more desi in my cooking attempts. This came about because I had a bunch of jasmine rice in the cabinet from when my mom visited last year and a package of frozen vegetables when she visited a few months ago. I’ve been perfecting the recipe for a while and I think I’ve finally got it down.

Mind you, this recipe is just a guideline. I like to think that it’s impossible for Indian home cooking to involve exact numbers. We’re very much a school of “just throw stuff in, and then throw MORE stuff in.” So, no matter what the amounts for the spices are below, just assume I kept randomly adding in more at various points in the process. LOL.

Mala’s Technicolor Dreamrice

Supplies:
A ten inch diameter nonstick frying pan.
A nonstick hatha (what the Hell is the English word for ‘cooking spoon’?)

Ingredients:
1/2 cup uncooked white rice (long grain, jasmine or basmati)
1 10 oz package frozen peas & carrots
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
desired amount of dried cranberries
desired amount of unsalted, dry roasted peanuts

Directions:
After a thorough rinse, soak rice in lukewarm water for ten minutes. While rice is soaking, heat oil in frying pan at medium heat. When the oil is hot enough, unwrap the frozen vegetables and jump back three feet to avoid being splattered. Let the veggies thaw, stirring occasionally to break apart the ice and ensure it cooks evenly. Add the turmeric and a 1/4 teaspoon of salt. (Make sure you don’t add too much turmeric. It’s solely for color and tastes very bitter.) Sautee! Once your veggies stop looking all frozen-y and raw and actually seem to be browning, drain your rice and dump it into the frying pan. Add two parts water to how much ever rice you have and turn up the heat a little. Add the remainder of your spices and bring to a boil.

Once the rice comes to a boil, reduce the temperature to a simmer and cook until all the water is absorbed. (If you’re like me and you taste as you go, you end up adding more ginger, more salt, etc.) Add peanuts and cranberries and stir until thoroughly mixed.

Voila!

Mala's Technicolor Dreamrice

Mala's Technicolor Dreamrice

I usually end up with enough for three meals. I pair it with George Foreman-ed chicken or steak (not very Indian of me, I know!) or eat it all by itself.

Prep time: 20 minutes max!

May the Schwartz be with youuuuuuuu.

I will concede that there has been one, small advantage to the calorie count revolution: My new fixation with frozen yogurt! See, prior to this cruel twist of regulatory fate, whenever people would talk about Pinkberry or its various knockoffs, I would just tune out. It seemed to be such an obsession with the pseudo-health conscious gym rat set that I figured, okay, as a chick who drinks Yuengling, loves steak, and adores chocolate, what the Hell do I care about yogurt? I even give Tasti D-lite a wide berth. Give me the real deal or GTFO, you know?

But then the storefront on the corner of 34th and 3rd began making its transformation from Latin Corner (which had barely been there a year) to something called Red Mango. I love mangoes. They’re my favorite fruit. They remind me of hot summer days in Kolkata, eating aam and wrinkling my nose at the red, earthen containers of mishti dahi, sweet yogurt, that Mom would have brought from the nearest confectionary shop. Mangoes, I liked, but yogurt…? Not so much. So, anyway, even here in the States, we’d have mangoes whenever they were in season. I love mango ice cream and mango margaritas… I pretty much like everything mango-related except mango lassi.

So when I saw the Red Mango going up, I was immediately intrigued, and immediately had to Google and see what the store was. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a Pinkberry-esque fro-yo place. Now, I have to admit here that when I heard the term “frozen yogurt,” I had two mental pictures: 1)It was just soft serve ice cream, which is what would pass for fro-yo back in Ohio, or 2)It was your Dannon variety yogurt, just a little cold. It turns out that it’s somewhere in between! AND it’s good for you. A small serving, which is more than enough for me, is less than 100 calories.

Yes, I have succumbed. I have tried both the original and green tea flavors, and the tart tang is unmistakably that of “real” yogurt, complete with active cultures. But, somehow, the fact that it’s cold and whipped makes it more palatable. Then, there’s the toppings. At Red Mango, you can get everything from Cocoa Krispies (totally tried that!) to various fruits. Would you believe that it took me until my third visit to realize that they actually had mangoes? (What can I say? I’m not always very smart.)

So, just a few days ago, I did what Fate had no doubt been waiting for me to do… get the original, sweet yogurt, garnished with mangoes. Mishti dahi and aam. And, lo, it was like the Heavens parted and a troupe of apsaras began dancing in my mouth. I finally get it. I finally get why the two flavors go together. And my sense of nostalgia for Kolkata was all wrapped up in those tart-sweet bites.

Hot summer days in New York aren’t quite the same, but thanks to Red Mango, they’re a little closer to home.

The obligatory calorie count rant.

New York state forcing all chain restaurants to post calorie counts? Sucks. I can say this with personal authority because the policy has thus far ruined my enjoyment of Baskin Robbins, Chevy’s, and Ruby Tuesday’s. I’m sorry, but anyone who goes to a restaurant in general is probably not going there to eat healthy… unless you’re going to some frou-frou health joint and drinking wheat germ. When I go out, it’s with the expectation that I’m going to be a little bad, and I really don’t want to know how bad. Seeing these calorie counts that rank well past 1100 and into the teens for chicken dishes, for burgers… it just made the idea of eating dishes I normally would have enjoyed er, unpalatable.

I now look to the lowest count when I hit the Baskin Robbins ice cream counter. I had a Corona Light at Chevy’s while waiting to get into Dark Knight at the AMC Empire, because the thought of drinking a 500 calorie margarita made me cringe. At Ruby Tuesday’s, I narrowed my choices down to dishes that were all in the 500-600 calorie range, my jaw dropping at some of the numbers for their much-touted burgers. And it’s not that I’m stupid — I know full well how bad some of these dishes must be, but for the purposes of going out and enjoying a meal outside my house and my bevy of Lean Cuisine dishes and three days’ worth of homemade biriyani, I really just want to exist in a pleasant state of denial.

If a handful of people are dumb enough to think McDonald’s is good for you, how is that the problem of the rest of the residents of this state? The rising obesity rate is not the restaurant’s fault; it’s the fault of people who don’t control how often they eat out and what they eat when they’re out.

I never considered myself some kind of crazy hedonist, someone fond of excess and into flouting the rules. But when it comes to food? Just back the hell off. There’s too many countries where people don’t even have the option of chowing down on a Smokehouse Burger. Worrying that, oh noes!, some privileged Westerner is going to add a few inches to their waistline unless someone tells them how many calories there are in the damn thing is stupid and condescending.

I’m SO sick of this generation of Americans refusing to take basic responsibility for themselves and then our government stepping in to fill those gaps. Everything has to be regulated because god forbid someone make their own, mature decision. We’re going to tell you how bad or good your food is for you, we’re going to tell you which TV shows are appropriate for what ages, what books you shouldn’t read, what medication you shouldn’t take, and everybody’s going to be hypersensitive and politically correct because god forbid we hurt someone’s feelings. It’s ridiculous that citizens are being reduced to children — and willingly so. Yes, please, put parameters and constraints on my stomach, my uterus, my brain…

Pretty soon people won’t have to think at all. And is that the future we’re headed for? Orwellian? Where we’re a bunch of automatons, brainwashed, sanitizing our history and sleepwalking through our present and future?

Is a  big ol’ margarita, a double scoop of rocky road, and a cheese-laden chicken dish really that detrimental to society? Come on.

Wherein carbs are not the enemy.

My parents were in from Ohio a few weeks ago, so we did a bit of the requisite touristy-ness: the Central Park Zoo (LOVE the monkeys!), the Natural History museum, a Broadway show (Hairspray), and a trip on the Staten Island Ferry so we could admire the Statue of Liberty without paying a dime. Of course, no trip to New York would be complete without food, so here are the two highlights of our gastronomic experience.

Thursday, we chose to stay around the neighborhood, so we ended up making the short trek to Curry Hill (I’m on the fence about that being offensive, but I also can’t seem to call the area anything else now…whoops), where we ate at Rice, 115 Lexington @ 28th. Since it’s surrounded by Indian restaurants, Mom and Dad were surprised to see that the restaurant is actually multi-ethnic and eclectic, featuring all kinds of dishes that go well with all kinds of rice. Since Dad is a picky eater, I made an executive decision and told him to get the chicken kebab. Mom went with the Thai coconut curry (chicken) over basmati rice, and I got jerk chicken wings over brown rice. Man, I LOVED that brown rice. I think I loved it more than the almost too mildly-spiced chicken, just because it was nutty and rich and fun to eat all on its own. Mom and Dad both cleaned their plates as well. They were charmed by the simple, spare space of the restaurant and the use of rice bags as pseudo Chinese lanterns. I’ve been to Rice in the past, and I know they have three other locations. Their butternut squash soup is another treat, and at some point I’d love to try their desserts.

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The Australian: Tie me kangaroo down, sport!

Checked out The Australian on 38th St. between 5th and 6th, for dinner last night, after catching some reviews on Menupages and being intrigued by some of their entrees. There wasn’t much of a crowd for a Saturday, and we didn’t leave till well after 8 p.m. It’s a damn shame, because it’s a beautiful space. I’m sure Happy Hour is much more crowded. Tables in the front, lots of elbow room at the bar, and booths in the back, as well as seating space upstairs that we didn’t get to see. Perfect lighting — you can actually see your dinner companion — and a really, really, good-looking staff. (What? It’s relevant to the experience!)

I had a glass of their Wine of the Month, a grenache-shiraz, while I waited for T. to arrive, and I liked it, though it wasn’t as flavorful to me as the Paringa shiraz I had at home a few weeks back. I wish I could remember the winery, but, hey, I’m not a foodie. I just like to drink and eat and experiment. As evidenced by the fact that we, very daringly, ordered the Kangaroo Sate appetizer. Kangaroo is a darker meat; it reminded me visually of beef or lamb on a skewer, but more tender. The Australian only gives you two skewers of the sate (one a piece for us!), but they compensate with their delicious potato wedges, accented with a delicious curry sauce, and some salad.

I ordered the breaded lamb cutlets for dinner, while T. had the roast lamb sandwich. Judging by the half she left on her plate and the nearly untouched steak fries (not as good as the wedges), I’m not sure she enjoyed her choice. I, however, demolished my lamb cutlets. They’re beaten very thin, along the bone, served with a tomato chutney and mashed potatoes with onion gravy. The whole thing was lick-the-bowl good, but I had to leave some of the carbs and chutney behind. We then lingered and split a treacle pudding with vanilla custard…which was too sweet. We couldn’t finish it, lest our teeth fall out of our heads.

I definitely want to go back and try a few other dishes, and just try out more Aussie food in general. I know there’s Bondi Road (153 Rivington St. bet. Suffolk and Clinton) and The Sunburnt Cow (137 Avenue C, bet. 8th & 9th). I’d be willing to try the fish at Bondi Road and the infamous brunch at The Sunburnt Cow, but other than that, their menus don’t seem that much different from American places in the same vein. Eight Mile Creek at 240 Mulberry St., looks intriguing, though.

 

If Penelope is “Pene-lopee,” why isn’t antelope “ante-lopee”?

In my quest to expand my gastronomic horizons (and, sadly, my waistline), I finally tried out one of the much-touted brunch places in Murray Hill yesterday. Okay so there’s, like, TWO much-touted brunch places in Murray Hill and this is the other one (Josie’s being the first). But, still, it was well worth the trip!

Penelope is a cute, kitschy, little place at 159 Lexington Ave and 30th, right on the cusp of Curry Hill, and their $13 prix fixe brunch menu is a deal that can’t be beat. They have about 6-8 dishes to choose from and each comes with coffee, juice, or an apple cider mimosa. There’s an ala carte menu as well. I actually saw a girl a few tables away taking pictures of her food, probably for a foodie blog, but I suck at that sort of thing, so you’ll just have to use your imagination. My friend L. had the Nutella French Toast, which she let me try a little of, and it was suitably delicious. They basically made little nutella sandwiches, slathering the delectable stuff between two thin slices of French toast, and then accompanied it with a selection of fresh fruit. Another friend, E., went the lunch route and had their BBLT, which is, as you might think, a double bacon sandwich. Yum. It was so ginormous she had a tough time tackling both it and her fries but she gave it her seal of approval. As for me, I went with the Pumpkin Waffles, which were an absolute sugar overload and definitely something I’d go back for. Accompanied by apple butter, cinnamon, powdered sugar, and pecans, I could barely finish the dish and the side of bacon I ordered. (Naturally, I finished the bacon rather than the waffles… I’m a pig. Which I suppose made me a cannibal.)

Though Penelope gets very busy and there was definitely a wait, the line moves fairly quickly. Our waitress was a doll and didn’t rush us out even though they probably needed the table. I would definitely go back there to try other things on the menu…and take advantage of the mimosa. I mean, come on, if you’re going to pay for a prix-fixe meal, might as well get something besides standard coffee, right? I learned that lesson too late. In my own defense, it WAS 10:30 in the morning and I tend to be a bit cautious about engaging in the drinky-drinky before noon.