Monthly Archives: July 2006

Gracie and I Go To Neptune

Just as Korean restaurants tend to specialize in certain dishes, I’ve found that the various East Village Polish restaurants have their strengths as well. Little Poland, for instance, is best for pierogies. As we found out last week, Neptune’s (194 First Ave) specialty is the Early Bird Dinner. Though we’re not senior citizens in Florida, Gracie and I appreciate a bargain as much as the next person and were overjoyed when we discovered the truly obscene amount of food and drink available for $10 from 5-9pm Monday – Friday. Your money gets you:

– 1 glass of disgusting house wine (we chose the white, which was served lukewarm but poured up to the meniscus)

– choice of soup or salad (we both had the cold borscht which was nicely astringent yet sweet, though a bit too full of chopped cucumber)

– choice of entree (see below)

– choice of dessert and tea or coffee (we had the delicious homemade apple cake and some Lipton)

My entree was the chicken cutlet with two sides (awesome pickled beets and steamed broccoli), and it was one of the best of its type that i’ve had – a juicy escalope pounded flat to about the size of a vinyl LP then lightly breaded and fried. Gracie got one of the combos, composed of 4 pierogies (2 potato, 2 meat) and a meat stuffed cabbage. Both tasted very homemade, although the pierogies were a bit overboiled. Still better than Veselka’s, though (good lord, what is up with their pierogies??). In conclusion: yay! We love Neptune. I’m still dreaming about that cutlet…

Neptune Restaurant, 192 First Avenue, New York, NY

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Dinner With Ian

We went to Skyway (11 Allen St), a newer Malaysian place that replaced the excellently-named (and also Malaysian) Proton Saga. I’d never tried the latter, having been warned off of it by an expert in the cuisine, but I’d been hearing good things about the new incarnation so off the two of us went. What we had:

Roti Canai – the standard starter: a hot, flaky pancake served with a small bowl of chicken curry sauce for dipping. Very tasty, although I’m pretty undiscerning when it comes to this dish – it always tastes good to me.

Achat – pickled vegetables in a spicy, very tangy sauce. The addition of pineapple chunks was a surprise (they’re really interesting when they’ve been pickled). Perhaps a bit too sweet overall.

Baby Oyster Omelette – wow. This was an absolutely flawless rendition of another staple dish – a light, fluffy egg pancake, slightly brown and lacy at the edges and liberally studded with small, strong oysters.

Curry Laksa with Young Tau Foo – again, wow. The fiery, bright orange broth had an amazing depth of flavor (I’m a sucker for spicy/salty/sweet/rich/coconut), and was served with chewy egg noodles and several planks of tofu stuffed with fish cake, a BIG fish ball (Dunlop-size, really), and a ton of sheets of fried tofu skin which became pleasantly saturated as the meal progressed.

I can’t wait to go back and try the asam laksa and the crispy fried squid tentacles, as well as the pasembur (sort of a smorgasbord plate). If it’s not quite as good as my beloved but sadly defunct Sentosa, it’s nearly so and that’s pretty impressive.

Skyway, 11 Allen Street, New York, NY

Guess What?

Another late-night walk from the 1st Avenue L stop meant yet another visit to Zaragoza. I can’t help myself. The taco man seemed quite happy to see me, and it could have been my imagination but I think he showed his appreciation by overloading the tortillas to a ridiculous degree. If I hadn’t been so drunk, I would have weighed the box when I got home. Rough estimation is about 2lbs. And it was good. Oh, Lord… was it ever. The beef tongue was absolutely ambrosial, seriously the best I’ve ever tasted. My other choice was chicken, which I hadn’t tried before. Not that I’ve got anything against it, but it always seems a little dull in comparison with the other options. However, the veal (one of my standbys) was down to the dregs of the pot and looked a bit scraggy and I wasn’t in the mood for shredded beef. So poultry it was, and it was pretty good – a white and dark meat mix, very tender and cooked in a tangy, slightly spicy red sauce. Trust Zaragoza to get even the boring stuff right. The love affair continues.

Zaragoza Grocery, 215 Avenue A, New York, NY

Grease Is The Word

My level of fried clam consumption has been abnormally high this week. Like, I had them twice. And while that may not sound like much, if you take into consideration the fact that I haven’t had any in at least a year then this qualifies as a clamstravaganza, a veritable clam orgy. On one hand – YAY! I love clams! On the other hand – BOO! They weren’t that great, and I’ve got indigestion! Several days of groaning and reaching for the Pepto and I don’t even have the consolation of thinking,”Well… at least those little guys were delicious.”

Sigh.

But anyway. On to the report. Round #1 in the bivalve stakes took place at some place on the way back from East Hampton (E&J’s Clambake, maybe?). Gracie and I shared the clam platter, which was supposed to entail fried clams, french fries, coleslaw, and lettuce/tomato (why the latter is included, I have no idea – it’s not like they give you a roll or anything to make a sandwich, and it’s just a wilted piece of iceberg and a sad greenish-white tom. slice sitting there in a depressing little heap). The coleslaw never materialized, and we were too scared to go back in to demand it (more on that later) so I can’t comment on it. Shame, as it looked delicious. The clams were big and pretty tender, though verging on mushy, and a bit overwhelmed by the nicely seasoned breading. I would have liked slightly less starch and more actual seafood flavor. Still – not bad. I’d give it a 6.5. We also split an order of peel and eat shrimp (fresh and sweet), which at $8.95 seemed like a bargain. Those were more like an 8.

G and I didn’t come out of the experience too badly, but I feel duty-bound to mention that no one else was that satisfied with their food. The mahi-mahi sandwich came in for particular abuse and the crab salad was derided for being a bit one-note in terms of flavor, while another member of our party had the the fried clam roll and suffered from stodge overload. Also, as I alluded to above, the restaurant itself was just kind of strange. The kid taking our orders looked like he wanted to hang himself and was being continually screamed at from the kitchen by some heavily-accented Long Islander who sounded as if he’d come from Central Casting. Between the two of them I didn’t really fancy stepping in to say, “Excuse me, chaps, but it looks as if someone forgot the coleslaw.”

Oh, and the outdoor patio we were seated on almost caught fire. So, kind of theatrical – yes. Great food – no.

Round #2 took place last night at Coney Island, where Gracie and I went to see the Brooklyn Cyclones play the Staten Island Yankees. Our seats were good and the stadium is charming, but we were somehow in the middle of a 40+ member extended Brooklyn family (seemingly chosen by the same casting agent as the seafood shack shouter) who’d block-bought tickets for a big summer outing. This combined with the relatively slow action on the field led us out of the park by the 4th inning and out to the boardwalk in search of real entertainment (not before we enjoyed an EXCELLENT order of curly fries, though).

After a stroll around Astroland and the Wonder Wheel park, we got an order of fried clams from the Gyro Hut or Gyro House (the big place on the boardwalk next to Ruby’s) or whatever it’s called. They were pretty nasty, frankly. Little rubberband-esque strips and chewy bits thickly coated, HoJo’s style. Still, they were hot and freshly-fried and let’s face it – greasy food straight from the deep-fryer is often very, very tasty in its own revolting way. The “clams” were served atop a bed of what looked like delicious thick-cut french fries, but one bite was enough to convince each of us that the something was seriously wrong. Upon reflection I think that the fries were cooked much earlier then sat around until needed, when they were thrown back into the (not particularly clean) oil for a second heating. Feh!

As often happens, the best clams I had this month were ones I made myself based on a Mark Bittman recipe. Here you go:

2 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 fat jalapeno, chopped and partially de-seeded

1 can coconut milk

1 cup chicken or veg stock

several healthy glugs of olive oil

Sautee the garlic and jalapeno in the olive oil over medium-high heat. Once the aroma comes out, add the clams and stir around for a minute or two then add the chicken broth and about 2/3 of the can of coconut milk (you want the thick, creamy part that rises to the top and some of the watery stuff). Bring it all to a rolling boil, and wait for the clams to pop open. Voila. C’est ca.