Restaurant: NYC Visit (2016)

I went to NYC for a bit, partly for work, partly for pleasure, and mostly to have a reason to not blog for a few days. I spent some time eating food with friends, so I figgered why not capture it here for no one to read? Here are the highlights…

Momofuku Nishi. I had originally thought I’d hit all Momofuku stops in NYC, but only found a few takers among my dinner partners. I asked one of my friends if they wanted to hit Momofuku Ko, but they begged off and suggested Nishi instead. I think they might be vegan, or were scared off by the high price tag of Ko, or both? I knew Nishi had the famous “Impossible Burger” (fake meat that supposedly looks/tastes/mouthfeels like the real thing), so will assume it was their vegetarian leanings. Unfortunately, that burger sells out by lunchtime, so… shoulda gone to Ko, bruh! I had just finished climbing out of an airplane and taxi, so was feeling a bit rushed and unthoughtful — I regret my ordering here. My friend got the similarly celebrated Cacio e Pepe (a dish that swaps in chickpea paste for the Cacio), and I didn’t want to double up on it. In retrospect, I should have gotten another vegetarian dish to share so I could have had more of the CeP. It was pretty good, prolly the best thing on the table. Instead I got an unmemorable noodle dish, and a bone marrow dish that I was embarrassed to eat in front of my friend — just a cow leg sawed in half for the diner to scoop the (admittedly tasty) marrow from. Not a bad start to the trip, but a bit of a letdown.

Katz’s Delicatessen. My wife’s a pescetarian, and a lot of my previous visits have been with vegetarian friends in tow. So I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take myself out to this legendary deli to grab some meat. I’m late to the pastrami game, but have managed to have a bunch of great ones across the country over the past five years. The bizarro ordering system (you wait in line at a cutter, order and get meat cut for a sandwich, etc) threw me off a little — I normally woulda got some coleslaw slopped into my sandwich, and maybe would have given some meat preferences to the cutter, but got nervous. So…part of my experience was hampered by me, I’ll admit it. Still, not the best pastrami sandwich I’ve eaten — I needed it to be more juicy/fatty, and I found it hard to find any pepper/smoke/seasoning. It kinda felt like I just got a corned beef sandwich. Langer’s in L.A. and Kenny & Zuke’s in Portland, you guys still got my vote for best pastrami sandwiches in the world!

Lupa Osteria Romana. Things took off here. A friend gave me a couple of choices to pick from, and I picked this Batali restaurant without much hesitation. It might have been the best place I ate during the trip! I split a bunch of plates with my friend, including a spinach salad with warm (toasted) pancetta, a couple different pastas, some cotorni and a steak. The pastas were the highlight — we ate a Cacio e Pepe that put the fake one from Nishi to shame, super peppery and perfect pasta, as well as an outta sight orecchiette special. The latter was to die for, the homemade little ears in a tomato ragu were a perfect counterpoint to the peppery CeP and salty spinach salad we’d had. We had debated getting the pasta tasting menu, and if I go again, I’ll zero in on that.

Eataly. I had some work stuff to do the next day, and ended up eating at another Batali joint for lunch. I was tempted to grab pasta again, but didn’t want a heavy tummy of pasta to slow me down from work and walking. I wish I had more personal time here, and would love to take my Italian ma here — so many great counters and packaged goods to take in, I could sample for hours. I went with a simple sausage pizza here, and it was okay. I sampled someone else’s piadini and it was actually pretty great. I’ll be back to one of these to do some real damage.

Momofuku Ssam Bar. I’m skipping ahead here, I ate at some pretty unremarkable places during work hours — a fake Chipotle, a hotel restaurant, prolly something else I forgot. I was excited to hit Ssam Bar in part because I wanted to try their spicy pork sausage and rice cakes while the memory of their replication at In Situ was fresh in my memory. A lot of splitting here with friends, so we took in a bunch of things. We started with some heirloom tomatoes and plums in a dashi sauce that was pretty solid. Heavy on the plums, but I wanted to tip the bowl up to my soup strainer and chug the remaining dashi broth when we were done. Followed that up with a platter of thinly sliced ham (okay), a jar of housemade kimchi (fire, both in taste and quality, I ate most of this jar), a superb pork belly bun (maybe the best pork bun I’ve ever had?) and then a feast of the sausage and rice cakes. And? I gotta give the dish to In Situ! The Ssam Bar rendition felt like the impostor — overly spicy, missing some of the subtle fermented flavors, not enough veggies, and just what felt like a heavy-handed take on their own dish. I dream about the In Situ dish, but this one just had me shrugging my shoulders a bit.

Momofuku Milk Bar. Only counting this since my original intention was to go big at Momofuku this trip, and this got pushed in as a result. I was a bit too full from dinner at Ssam Bar to really do this right, and the line and cramped quarters kept me honest as well. I took a slice of Crack Pie back to my hotel room to eat later, and skipped some of the other sweets. There was something a little decadent about lying in bed and eating that slice of Crack Pie with my hands — so much butter and cream and sugar and yummy made even better by pajamas and the faint glow of the TV. It also felt a little pathetic and fat.

Joe’s Shanghai. I ate here alone, but probably should have found a friend to join me. Single dining basically limited me to the soup dumplings here (I didn’t want to waste food, and 8 soup dumplings is a lot of food already), and while they were good, it was also a bit too gross to just fill my belly with all that pork fat. This place is known for their xiao long bao, but they’re not that clearly marked on the menu — I saw a couple people literally holding up photos of the dumplings from Yelp reviews up to the menu to try and find them. I also saw a douchey guy dadsplaining to his family about how great the soup dumplings were, and then when they arrived at his table I enjoyed watching him not know how to eat them — he scooped one up and took a big chomp, splashing hot greasy broth all over his stupid face! These dumplings were the biggest soup dumplings I’ve ever had, which sounds good on paper but in practice means a couple negatives. The dumpling wrapper was a little too thick for me, it has to be to hold the weight of the heavy contents. People lifted these out of the baskets with tongs, which was the first sign of how thick the wrapper would be. And the “soup” in a dumpling is mostly just like pork fat and gelatin, right? Eating an entire basket of that just felt a little gross to me, I really felt like a greasy fat guy afterward. Still, pretty good, they would have been great if I had been able to cut them with some vegetables or another dish.

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. This was one of the oldest food recommendations I can remember someone making to me about NYC, and I was only able to get to it 20+ years and 10+ visits later. It was right around the corner from Joe’s, so I waddled my porky stink over there afterward. I sampled some Durian ice cream (not bad!), and really was torn between some of my favorite asian dessert flavors. Egg custard tart? Black sesame? Pandan? Almond cookie? Red bean? Ginger? I probably could’ve been the Ugly American for a bit and sampled them all…but I played it safe and grabbed some black sesame instead. Solid pick, great sesame flavor throughout with a ton of crunchy seeds as well. I ate about 1/3 of the scoop before throwing it out, I was just too filled with soup broth at that point.

I also had a bunch of great cocktails all over the city, but, I think we’re done here. Good trip! Good eats!

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10th Record(s): David Bowie “Aladdin Sane” and “Lodger”

Nice to group these two, they complement each other kinda well. Neither get played too frequently, since my hand usually gravitates to similar Bowie records in their respective period. I’ll listen to “Ziggy Stardust” instead of “Aladdin Sane” (but I guess you could argue “Hunky Dory” and maybe “Man Who Sold the World” as well), but “Lodger” does tend to a bit better since it’s from my favorite Bowie period and I’m always scared of overlistening to my favorite records. Looking at how infrequently these guys get played, that fear seems silly but I’d hate to be 70 years old and suddenly realizing that my copy of “Low” is unlistenable and a better copy will cost me a couple months of social security.

They also complement each other well since they show off the wide gap between the US issues of the RCA period and their respective UK issues. I groaned a little when I pulled the orange Dynaflex record out of the “Aladdin Sane,” cover. I’ve tried to upgrade those over the years, especially after Bowie died and I imagined Mrs. Fredoluv (who hails David Bowie as her favorite artist) might be pulling records out and playing them. I guess this one lingers, however, and I’m not in a big hurry to upgrade it — especially since Mrs. Fredoluv put on exactly NONE records after Bowie died. I’m just not into this record, it’s a bit all over the place, the Dynaflex sounds muffled and trashy, and I’d really rather put on another Bowie record instead. I do like the back-to-back appearance of “Panic in Detroit” and “Cracked Actor,” however, I think I’ve pulled this record out just to hear the latter before.

“Lodger” doesn’t suffer the same fate. It’s not a UK brown label (it’s a Canadian…grey label, maybe?), I guess it didn’t get upgraded either. But I don’t feel an urgent need to address it since it still sounds light years better than the US orange. Bowie and all the instruments sound like they’re floating in real space, super clear and deep. I felt like bouncing around the music room in response, I really enjoyed hearing these songs again.

Origin stories: Pretty sure the “Aladdin Sane” came from PDQ Records in Tucson. On top of the garbage sound, it’s not in the best shape either. I know I got “Lodger” from “Electric Fetus” in Minneapolis. Both great record stores, I miss the ability to get just about anything at the former and the ability to curate amazing hauls with ease at the latter.

“Aladdin Sane” Discogs link
Vinyl: VG-
Cover: VG+

“Lodger” Discogs link
Vinyl: NM-
Cover: VG+ (some seam and edge wear)

Restaurant: In Situ (San Francisco, 2016)

As soon as a friend began to tell me about In Situ, Corey Lee’s new restaurant in SFMOMA, I knew I needed to go. The concept took me back to grad school, where I probably would have spent 10 pages overextending Walter Benjamin and Pierre Bourdieu to the restaurant, its location, concept and execution. Lee has partnered with elite chefs from around the world to collect and offer some of their signature dishes (contemporary and past), cocktails, desserts, etc. in one rotating menu collection. I’ve dabbled in foodieism in the past, but parenthood and old age has forced some limits on me — the idea of being able to sample dishes from Thomas Keller’s French Laundry without convincing my wife that an evening at that Napa Valley is worth knocking a few nights off an upcoming vacation or dipping into our son’s college savings for is pretty appealing. Trying signature dishes from Wylie Dufresne’s now-defunct WD~50 restaurant without time travel? Ok!

I made my 30-days-in-advance reservations, and silently waited for the calendar pages to turn. I killed that time by booking a (work) trip to NYC, where I knew I was going to try and eat at a different outpost of David Chang’s Momofuku restaurant group every day with a different friend. I also killed that time by not writing blog entries, and petting my amazing pet dog.When the night approached, I couldn’t get us out of the house fast enough, eventually making us nearly 30min early for our reservation like a couple of tourist yokels.

I didn’t pay as much attention to my cocktails and their lineage and composition — I wish I had, they really were superb. I had a few different whiskey and rum concoctions while Mrs. Fredoluv strew a path of broken Prosecco glasses behind her. I also didn’t think to take pictures of our first dishes, probably because I feel a little corny taking pictures of my food (even though it was happening at every table around us). I knew I’d have the Shrimp Grits from the above-mentioned WD~50 (lead picture in this NYT write-up), and it was amazing. A simple bowl of obliterated shrimp that’s been cooked in corn powder, garnished with delicate jalapenos and a squirt of shrimp oil…I honestly had to hold back from licking the bowl, I’d gladly eat a ramen size bowl of Shrimp Grits and feel no shame. Mrs. Fredoluv started with a bowl of potatoes, squid ink and sea vegetables that was also pretty delightful — I stole a potato and cucumber but had to sit on my fork to ensure I didn’t continue to tip the entire plate to my mouth and shovel the contents rapidly. Delicate and super-flavorful!

I had a hard time choosing my big boy entree, everything sounded amazing. Chicken from French Laundry sounded good, but it was chicken. Who wants chicken when you can have the sun?!? A bowl of wagyu beef udon soup really called to me, but it was the most expensive thing on the menu — I just couldn’t get over the hump of ordering $40 soup (I guess others found it extreme as well, but loved it). And finally, the Momofuku spicy pork sausage rice cakes sounded amazing…but again, I knew I could order them for real in a few weeks. Still…I’m a sucker for rice cakes, and had to go with the latter. So glad, I loved the amazing, chewy slabs of heaven swimming in flavorful pork ragu! In almost every bite, those top flavors would give way to the ssamjang slicked vegetables and my mouth would cower in servitude — the fermented umami flavor brought a new sensation that I hadn’t experienced. I wanted Mrs. Fredoluv to experience it, but she refused to let her ‘no pork’ rule get an exception. That’s okay, I couldn’t taste her wasabi crusted lobster either (I’m lobster intolerant!).

We also had desserts, but I dunno, they just weren’t as good. To be honest, I wish I’d had another savory dish instead, piling on a new mouth experience instead of glumly chugging through a mouth of sweet stuff that I wasn’t into. I’m excited to make new reservations and see what’s on tap the next time in the rotation…

10th Record(s): Black Star “Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star” and Kurtis Blow “S/T”

I’ve been having issues here. I’m doing my best to stay above water over Movie Meow-Meows, but even that’s been a challenge. I’ve been without a computer for nearly a month, thanks to a burnt out logic board and a couple botched repair efforts by Apple and their certified repair folks. So I’ve been relying on a loaner Windows laptop at the office; that computer has the computing power of a Gameboy, but I don’t really remember the Windows world too well. Screenshotting, editing, or anything beyond “reading e-mail” has felt like a Herculean chore to me. Because, you know, I’m a baby.

Anyway, I did burn through a couple records on my 10th Record project and just haven’t documented them. These actually go pretty well together since the Black Star record is so steeped in 80s hip-hop — not as far back as the Kurtis Blow stuff, but still, nearly twenty years since its release(!) it feels okay to lump that proto-hip-hop into Talib Kweli/Mos Def/Hi-Tek’s rear-view staring at the genre. I also make the rules here, so, there’s that. To be honest, I kinda feel like the Kurtis Blow album sounded a bit better than Black Star. Is that crazy to say? I mean, “MD&TKaBS” is probably deservedly on every list of the top 20-50-100 albums of hip-hop that anyone would ever make. I still get chills when I hear Talib’s opening rap on “Definition” (a single that’s probably on any list of the top 10-20 songs of hip-hop?), but that song also exposes the weakness here for me: my system just doesn’t handle bassy hip-hop very well.

“Definition” has a real boom to it, it sounds like a sound system is driving down the street dropping that reggae groove as it goes by, but I can’t get that on my speakers. Some of it is probably placement. I’m using stand speakers as bookshelf speakers, and there’s not enough space around the speaker to let those soundwaves do what the speakers are designed to do. But I’m skeptical that they could handle the bass anyway, they’re all science-fictiony and everything, but I just don’t know how you process that wide bottom without a woofer of some sort. A lot of my hip-hop records (and reggae for that matter) just don’t have the same full range that I get in my car or living room as a result. “Kurtis Blow” doesn’t dip into those ranges, and it’s also a record I’m not too familiar with. The rapping is pretty stereotypical early 80s/late 70s coupling, and it’s hard to tell where the original music is since you’ve heard this album’s music sampled over and over again for 35 years — there’s probably not a single sample in this blend of funky disco, which made it more fun for me to dance around to. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to “Kurtis Blow,” just dismissing it as the album that has “The Breaks,” but it’s actually a blast. Not all tracks land … but then you can say the same about Black Star as well!

Origin Stories: I’m pretty sure the Kurtis Blow album came from a thrift store, it’s definitely a record I’ve seen in thrift store/25-cent bins for years and years. My copy still has the shrink, and is in perfect condition (maybe this was the first time it was ever listened to?). I can’t say the same about the Black Star LP. I’m the only owner on that one, but I’ve listened to it a bunch. Even worse, the labels still have some stickers I put on them when I was taking DJ lessons — no scratches or anything, but they’ve just had a lot of love. Probably still worth 50x more than the Kurtis Blow…

Black Star Discogs Link
Vinyl: VG+
Cover: NM-

Kurtis Blow Discogs Link
Vinyl: NM-
Cover: NM

 

10th Record: Billo’s Caracas Boys “Fin De Año”

billo

Ah, finally getting into some real records now, even if this is an odd inclusion! For those following my “Every 10 Records” listening and documenting of my vinyl collection, it’s gotten a bit sluggish due to some early run-ins with bad pressings and bad music. I was happy to see my finger landing on Billo’s as I counted to my 80th LP, and for a split second I thought about pulling a different album by Billo’s just to make it a little less weird. Most of my collection is filed alphabetically first, then chronologically within the artist’s discography, but I knew that there’s so little info on any of these particular records that any chronological arrangement I’d done was likely made up of guesswork. Still, I kept things honest and pulled this out to listen.

I got turned onto Billo’s Caracas Boys by chance a few years ago — I was chatting with a friend about what we were listening to at work, and he’d been churning through a few YouTube albums and had landed on Billo’s as a result. He dug it, and I quickly did as well! I made a point of grabbing a few LPs by Billo’s on eBay (this was before I knew about better record marketplaces), but they were really pretty hard to come by. “Fin De Año” is actually one of the LPs that pops up most frequently, surprisingly enough, so it made itself onto my shelves very quickly.

I can’t find much online about Billo’s Caracas Boys or their discography. Yet they were super prolific and most of their stuff is available on streaming services. But I’d like to learn more since their sound is a good mix of several things. The bandleader was born in the Dominican Republic, got famous in Venezuela and ended up in pre-Castro Cuba for a bit before returning to Venezuela. That transiency across Latin America shows up in the songs — there’s a lot of merengue for sure, but I feel like I see salsa/cumbia/rhumba/and flamenco dancing through the orchestra as well. The music is heavier on the pop than the rhythms, so maybe that’s why it feels a bit more universal. Regardless, I love listening to it even if it’s not quite as forceful as some other latin dance records.

What makes this record a bit odd is that it really is an “end of the year” record, as the title states! To non-Spanish speakers, that’s probably meaningless until you get to songs like “Cascabel” — a Spanish language “Jingle Bells.” Still, I played this record while my family was doing their thing and no one seemed to notice — my son danced a bit to some of the songs, but to my chagrin no one had any Christmas tunes lodged in their head. There are better Billo’s albums in my collection, we’ll see when I get to them in this game…

Discogs link
Vinyl: VG- (pretty worn, no skips or pops but surface noise throughout)
Cover: VG-

 

10th Record: Chuck Berry “Johnny B Goode”

berry

Hmph. I’m getting a bit frustrated with this 10th Record project. Does my collection just suck? Do I need to do more digging and purchasing, inflate my collection a bit more to make sure that there’s more outta sight records to support endeavors like this?

I’ll combine my origin story on this with my write-up. I had pretty much overlooked Chuck Berry for most of my life; I thought I knew his songs, I knew covers of his songs, and I’d heard combinations of those two float in and out of commercials and movies in perpetuity. I didn’t really feel like there was much to explore there until I worked at a record shop where a co-worker frequently put on Berry’s “The Great 28” compilation, and I was able to push past those immediate hits and get into the juicier stuff. I loved the raw rock and roll sound and the great songwriting, there were so many great songs to discover. As I got deeper into the Beatles/Kinks/Rolling Stones catalogs, the Berry songs would keep bubbling up, helping me pay attention to not only those songs but the other covers that would fill in the gaps on those early LPs. While I’d buy my own copy of, say, a Larry Williams compilation inspired by those listens, I never got “The Great 28” since it was basically always around when I needed it.

Flashing forward many years later, when I pulled out my turntable and decided to rediscover music through a more intimate listening, I made a quick list of albums I knew I still needed to get in order to really make that listening sparkle. That list, sadly soon abandoned, had “The Great 28” on it, for sure. It wasn’t too long after that I saw a friend posting some records he was dumping, and seeing this record in the batch I was happy to get at least partially towards having some quality Chuck Berry in my collection. I wasn’t being very mindful at that point, and didn’t really scrutinize what was coming into my shelves. Oops!

Another 10th Record, and another record marred by fake stereo! This one’s pretty difficult to listen to, there’s so much echo that it sounds like Chuck Berry is recording in the shower (har-har) and the top and bottom ranges are just absolutely missing any definition. There’s just a big blur of bass and drum mess and no real guitar energy to speak of. I still haven’t replaced it with a better Chuck Berry album, but I’m sure I’ll find one soon.

This cheap reissue was put out by Pickwick, so the kid who grew up listening to Pickwick children’s  (Mr. Pickwick!) and cheap reissue albums definitely felt my sore ears soothed a teeny bit by that little fragment of nostalgia. Otherwise, this should go in a garbage bin.

Discogs link
Vinyl: VG+
Cover: VG+