Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Talent Thai, 34th St & 3rd Ave

Talent Thai
210 E 34th St

When the weather is hot, most people want to eat cool, refreshing foods - cold soups, summer salads, fresh fruit. I like those things, too, but as the weather really heats up, I find that all I want are spicy foods - and the hotter, the better. Last week was particularly hot, and I couldn’t get the idea of a truly flammable Green Curry out of my mind. ThaiNY is the go-to Thai restaurant in the area, but Talent Thai is just a few blocks farther uptown, and their food is fantastic! They also have freezing air-conditioning, so even if spicy food isn’t your natural summer craving, I guarantee you’ll be glad you came here to get out of the heat!

Whenever I go out for Thai or Indian, I’m absolutely like a little kid in a candy store. I order way too much food, and am somehow always surprised to see how little is left at the end of the meal. On this occasion, Scott and I ordered Crispy Spring Rolls, Pad Prig Khing (chicken), Kee Mao (beef), and Green Curry (chicken).

The Crispy Spring Rolls are surprisingly light and refreshing, considering they’ve been deep-fried. They’re stuffed full of vermicilli noodles and fresh, crisp vegetables, and are served with a sweet, but not overpowering, chili dipping sauce. All of our three main dishes are the same level of spiciness, but the Pad Prig Khing (chicken and green beans in a roasted chili, kaffir lime sauce) tastes the spiciest of them all. The kaffir lime leaves lend a subtle citrus note which you can still taste through the spice, and something about the sauce also tastes sweet, which helps take the edge off of the spiciness. Kee Mao is a spicy dish with flat rice noodles - warm, flavorful tomatoes are a nice, cooling contrast to the spiciness of the chili sauce, and this dish is loaded with sautéed onions, bell peppers, and heaps of basil. Pad Prig Khing and Kee Mao are both really amazing dishes - if when you go to Talent Thai, you have to try them!

Now, Green Curry is my absolute favorite Thai dish, and, fair or not, it’s what I use to measure all Thai restaurants against each other - Talent Thai’s Green Curry isn’t amazing, but it is very good and doesn’t disappoint. The vegetables are cooked just long enough to keep their crispness, and there’s a good meat-to-vegetable ratio. Talent Thai is very generous with their basil, and there are long strips of it floating all throughout the curry, which is deliciously creamy and not too rich. My only reservation? We asked for it to be VERY spicy, and it arrived with only a respectable amount of heat. Now, I don’t want food so spicy I can’t eat it, but I feel like I’m typically served food at an “American spicy” level - I want Thai-Fire-Hot spicy!

I’ve eaten at a lot of Thai restaurants in New York, and up and down the East coast - whether you’re looking for a night out or you just want quick delivery, Talent Thai is reliably wonderful. I’ve yet to eat anywhere I like better - but I still have yet to visit Rhong Tiam!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Poll of the Week - 7.27.2009

With so many fresh fruits in season now, it’s only natural to think about turning them into pies! Now, I didn’t include apple pie because I think it’s more of an autumn pie than a summer pie - but please leave me comments if your favorite isn't listed!

What is your favorite kind of summer pie?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

“Notable Burgers”, Part Two: 5 Napkin Burger

5 Napkin Burger
630 9th Ave (at 45th St)

After some rest and a long walk, Scott and I were ready for Part Two of our “Notable Burgers” expedition (read Part One here). We both asked for the Original 5 Napkin Burger and, on the waiter’s recommendation, we also ordered Deep Fried Pickles & Pastrami and Pork Taquitos. The Deep Fried Pickles and Pastrami are little fritters served on top of a pile of sauerkraut. The pickles aren’t as briny as I like them, and the sauerkraut is quite sweet from the wealth of onions - some caraway seeds or extra vinegar would help give it the extra bite that it needs, though.

The Taquitos capitalize on two current New York obsessions: mini-food and pork. They’re quite literally what their name implies - little tacos.

The pork in the Taquitos is tender and well seasoned, and also a little on the sweet side. They’re topped with fresh pico de gallo and served with sour cream, but it’s the taquito shell that really stands out - lightly fried and crispy, but with a little bit of doughy chew to it.

But now for the real reason to come here: the Original 5 Napkin Burger. Invented at Marseille, perfected at Nice Matin, and now working as full-time muse at 5 Napkin Burger, this is 10 ounces of ground chuck topped with caramelized onions, tons of melted Comté cheese and rosemary aioli, all topped with a lightly toasted brioche bun. It’s served with no additional condiments, just a side of french fries. And it is fantastic.

The Original 5 Napkin Burger - one review I read suggested eating the burger over the fries, so that you create your own “cheese fries”, complete with aioli and delicious burger drippings. This worked out well, but make sure to leave some fries to eat by themselves, too!

Unlike the burger at Five Guys, there is nothing refreshing about the Original Burger - lettuce and tomato would ruin it. The rosemary aioli has a mega-dose of garlic in it, and sounds like it would be overpowering, but it balances well with the caramelized onion. The only thing I don’t like about the Original Burger is that the bottom bun is already pretty well soaked as soon as you get it. You get over it quickly enough, though, mostly because you’re too busy trying to keep the delicious aioli-cheese-onion-grease combo from slipping down past your wrists.

The most remarkable part of this meal, however, came almost as an after-thought. On a whim, we ordered milkshakes for dessert, although mine was actually a “Dark and Stormy” float (dark rum, ginger beer, and rum raisin ice cream). The strawberry milkshake was unremarkable, but the S’more milkshake - wow! When you go to 5 Napkin Burger, you must have one of these - it’s incredibly thick and tastes exactly like campfire S’mores, especially with the burnt marshmallow on top.

The “S’more” milkshake - I don’t even like S’mores, and I was floored by how good this milkshake was!

We actually asked the waiter if the chef would be willing to give us the recipe for his S’more milkshake, and the waiter laughed and told us, “I’m sorry, but the chef would rather DIE than give out that recipe!” It’s so amazing, I feel inspired to make it at home anyway, so check back soon for a recipe to replicate the “S’more Milkshake”!

5 Napkin Burger stands on the opposite end of the spectrum from Five Guys, different in almost every manner but one - they respectively serve the best burgers I’ve ever had in New York.

**update** - on a recent re-visit to 5 Napkin Burger, Little Scarlet discovered that the S’more Milkshake recipe has been modified, and now includes chocolate. It’s still good, but unfortunately tastes less like campfire S’mores than it used to.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

“Notable Burgers”, Part One: Five Guys

Five Guys
296 Bleecker St (at Barrow St)

There are two different kinds of burgers: thin, well-done patties and thick, medium-rare burgers. In New York, Five Guys is the champion of the well-done patty, and 5 Napkin Burger is my favorite of the “fancy” burgers. New York Magazine recently published a list of “New York’s 82 Most Notable Burgers”, and, fortunately, Adam Platt shares my good taste - he included both restaurants! Scott and I were inspired by the article’s photographs, and since he’d never been to either place, we decided to be ambitious and make a day of it - Five Guys for lunch, 5 Napkin Burger for dinner, and a six month snooze!

The first thing to know about ordering in Five Guys is that a “Cheeseburger” is actually a double. For people with smaller mouths and appetites to match, there’s the single-patty “Little Cheeseburger”. All toppings are free, but you have to ask if you want any toppings - the only thing that comes on a Five Guys patty is a whole wheat, sesame seed bun.

After months of experimenting, I’ve perfected my Five Guys order - a Little Cheeseburger with mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato, grilled onions, and jalapeños. Scott was a little overwhelmed by the menu (and its prominently displayed high calorie counts - thanks for that, Bloomberg…), but he ordered a Cheeseburger with all of my toppings, plus pickles and hot sauce.

Glamorous photo of a double Cheeseburger (photo courtesy of New York Magazine)

This beautiful mess is the un-glamorous version of the double Cheeseburger.

Little Cheeseburger

The burgers are messy, but the grilled onions and burger grease taste so good that you're happy to lick your hands clean while eating. The hot sauce tastes a little like Frank’s, and makes a killer addition to the meat and the bun and the other toppings - it’s going on my burger next time! All of the burger’s toppings are crisp and fresh, and the patty is surprisingly juicy and tender for a well-done piece of meat. The tomatoes have good flavor, and the pickles are briny with a nice crunch to them. The real winner in the condiment category, though, is the jalapeño - hands down. It’s a brilliant shade of green that you don't often see outside of the farmer's market. It’s spicy and snappy, and makes the whole burger pop!

Between our jalapeños and hot sauce, these were some spicy burgers - but a hot french fry dunked in cool ketchup was the perfect antidote. At Five Guys, they leave the potato skins on their fries, which really delivers a true, “dirty” potato flavor. Across from the self-serve soda fountain, there are at least a dozen 50-lb bags of potatoes beneath a dry-erase board saying where that day's potatoes came from - ours were from Rigby, Idaho! These fries are cooked in peanut oil, and they're the right amount of salty and crispy, leaving intimidating grease stains on their brown paper bag.

If you’re looking for atmosphere, Madison Square Park’s Shake Shack is probably what you’re after. But this summer, I’ll take the superior burger of Five Guys and eat it inside - in the air conditioning, thank you!

**update** - Little Scarlet just received word from Five Guys itself that the hot sauce they use is Frank’s after all! Way to go Little Scarlet - thanks for reading, Five Guys!!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Poll of the Week - 7.20.2009

Starting today, here’s the first “Poll of the Week” - I’ll post a new poll every Monday morning, so check back often!

What is your favorite comfort food? If your favorite’s not listed, I’d love to hear what it is - tell me why you like it!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Brooklyn: Bedford Cheese Shop, Fabiane’s, Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream

Bedford Cheese Shop: $$, ***
Fabiane’s: $, **
Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream: $, **
(website links provided where possible)

This post was originally supposed to be about barbecue. As I mentioned in my last post, my friends and I can’t seem to get enough, so we ventured into Brooklyn last weekend to visit Fette Sau for lunch. Scott didn’t check the hours, though, and they don’t open until 5 pm, so this is now a post about “food in Brooklyn”.

After being denied barbecue, we wandered down Williamsburg’s Bedford Ave looking for other options. Bedford Cheese Shop seemed like a good place to get a snack while thinking of our next move, so we popped in. What a great idea! Bedford Cheese Shop is worth going to for the cheese descriptions alone:

“It will cause a sensation in your mouth similar to that of licking the bottom of a freshly emptied butter churn (which, we’re sure, many of you out there are familiar with).”
Witty writing aside, the cheese here is flat-out amazing. We sampled slivers of different washed-rind cheeses before finally settling on one called “Reblochon Kuntener”. It’s a cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland, and is incredibly pungent - and just as delicious. It demands to be slathered on top of a thick piece of bread, so that’s exactly what we did.

Happily enjoying our purchase, we saw a café called Fabiane’s. Well-populated but not too crowded, we ordered our food at the counter and took a seat at one of its sidewalk tables. Fabiane’s serves breakfast and beautiful-looking desserts, but we wanted more substance and ordered sandwiches (roast duck with fig, and warm roast beef with blue cheese) and a terrific chicken pot pie. The crust on the chicken pot pie is delicious - it’s flaky and buttery, but is sadly absent from the pie’s bottom, appearing only as a top layer. Large pieces of roast chicken and a generous amount (and variety!) of vegetables more than make up for it, though.

We decided to walk around Williamsburg for a while before heading back to Manhattan. Maneuvering past the used book sales, thrift stores, hipsters, and taco carts, I spotted one of Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream’s trucks! I’d heard nothing but good things, so I insisted we stop and have some. They were out of the red currant flavor, but were still serving their other nine, which include the standard vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, as well as newly popular staples like ginger and Early Grey. We sampled coffee, ginger, and pistachio - all good flavors, but they just don’t compare to the way my favorite ice cream place, The Bent Spoon, makes them. I was feeling slightly disheartened until I tried the hazelnut - jackpot! Creamy and tasting almost of coffee, it was studded with hundreds of small hazelnut bits and served in a sugar cone - a great finishing note to a sunny day walking around Brooklyn.

In a way, I’m almost glad Fette Sau was closed. I love barbecue, but I also love exploring new places, and Brooklyn has a lot to offer - I’m excited for my next visit.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Snapple Big Apple BBQ Block Party, Madison Square Park

Big Apple BBQ Block Party – Madison Square Park (June 13-14, 2009)
$ (admission is free, food is $8 per plate, desserts and drinks are $2-$6 - free drinks are passed out at certain times throughout the event)
All proceeds go to the Madison Square Park Conservancy

Every June, the country’s best barbecue pitmasters flock to Madison Square Park for a weekend of showcasing their wares in the Snapple Big Apple BBQ Block Party. I’m a big fan of block parties, and a die-hard meat lover, so there was no way I would miss out on a festival like this! I also had to bring my friends Becca and Scott along, which wasn’t a hard sell since they’re both barbecue fanatics.

On the first day of the weekend-long BBQ, we started by going straight to the Information Booth so that we could map out a plan of attack. After a lot of debate, we decided to go for pulled pork first and then eat it while standing in whatever line seemed shortest after that.

Our first stop was the line for Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, which had about a 45-minute wait - their pulled pork sandwich was UNBELIEVABLE!!! I can’t even explain to you what exactly made it so good (deliciously fatty, without being greasy – juicy and tender), I just felt like I was knocked flat by some incredible barbecue-drug! Becca’s Southern roots make her biased against anything that isn’t the mustard-based pulled pork of the South Carolina low country (does it get any more niche than that?), but even she said it was one of the best sandwiches she’d ever had! Scott took one look at the beautiful, pink smoke-rings around each bite of pork (a sign of long hours in the smoker) and was won over before even tasting it.

As Chris Lilly (Big Bob
s Chief Pitmaster and my new idol!) explains it, his pork is so awesome because of his method of seasoning and slow-smoking. First, the pork butts are injected with apple juice-based seasoning and covered in dry rub before spending 14 hours in a smoker - then the pork is hand-pulled and chopped into generous bite-sized pieces. Big Bob uses a vinegar-based sauce on their pulled pork, but the sandwich (served on plain, white-bread buns) doesn’t come with an actual “barbecue sauce” – regular sauces are on a table to the side, and you can add however much of whatever sauce you like, although the meat truly doesn’t need anything extra.

Big Bobs was a tough high to come down off of, but our next stop was Drew Robinson’s smoked sausage from Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q. I’ve eaten my share of sausages, but I’d never had anything like these! Jim ‘N Nicks insist their smoked sausages be eaten in a particular way - covered in their signature sauce, on top of a Saltine that’s spread with pimento cheese, and topped with a slice of Serrano pepper. This was fantastic!

Top: The smoked sausage from Jim ‘N Nicks - you can see the Saltine crackers, pimento cheese, and freshly sliced Serrano peppers.
Bottom: Becca got barbecue sauce all over Scott’s shirt. Since Oxy-Clean helps sponsor the Big Apple BBQ, the late, great Billy Mays was at the block party, but this stain wouldn’t wait for his personal touch - Becca and I had to step up.

I would have gone back for a second one, but we needed to try out some other places before going back for seconds anywhere. We visited The Salt Lick and 17th Street Bar & Grill, which were both pretty good - click here and here for their respective reviews. Ultimately, we just couldn’t get Big Bobs sandwich out of our heads, so we went back for a second one of these before leaving on Saturday. We wound up waiting an hour-and-a-half for it, but it was TOTALLY worth it!!!

When we came back on Sunday, we started with an easy 30 minutes in line for our third (and regrettably, final) sandwich from Big Bob’s – I know, I know, I think I might have a problem!

Scott and I (and Scott’s sister, Julia) enjoying our third pulled pork sandwich from Big Bob’s. Becca was off getting free drinks, but you can tell how excited we all still were about these sandwiches!

We also visited The Pit and Pappy’s Smokehouse (pulled pork and ribs, respectively), but these were both just kind of “okay” - maybe that’s the risk you run with cooking for such a huge crowd during a multi-day food festival. We spent the rest of the afternoon on a bench in Madison Square Park, listening to the live music, eating watermelon, and drinking root beer floats. Shake Shack had a long line during the Big Apple BBQ, but I can’t imagine who would want a New York burger when they could have Alabama barbecue!

(click here for a full list of pitmasters & their menus)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Shake Shack, Madison Square Park

Shake Shack, Madison Square Park
Open 11 am – 11 pm

I love watching the Food Network, but it’s a dangerous late-night activity since their shows always make me hungry. Last night, “Unwrapped” was doing a special on hamburgers - they ran a segment on the original Shake Shack, and all restraint went out the window! Shake Shack is a casual, walk-up shack in Madison Square Park (two blocks from my apartment!) that serves burgers, hot dogs, shakes, fries, and custard. A quick survey of reviews on re-assured my hungry roommates and I of its greatness, and a glance at the online “Shack Cam” promised a short wait - good news, given their reputation for hour-long lines.

We all opted for Single ShackBurgers, but if I’d been hungrier I would have jumped on the Double Stack - a ShackBurger topped with their ‘Shroom Burger. The ‘Shroom Burger is a lightly fried Portobello mushroom filled with both muenster and cheddar cheese - both burgers come topped with lettuce, tomato, and Shack sauce (a “secret” mix of mayonnaise, ketchup, chipotle, and other ingredients). Shake Shack serves wine and five kinds of beer, but we opted for vanilla milkshakes, made with soft serve and ice cream. Two orders of cheese fries and five minutes later, we sat down with our food at one of their park tables.

Despite my strong aversion to processed cheese and the congealed mess that melted cheese becomes as it cools, Shake Shack’s cheese fries kept me eating even after they were no longer hot - a huge compliment in itself. The fries themselves are slightly disappointing, though. They’re missing a crucial dose of salt and are awfully similar to Ore-Ida’s crinkle-cut fries - one fry even had a slightly cool center that reminded me of impatiently making these same fries at home.

Picture courtesy of New York Magazine

The burgers are ... good. As a loyal devotee of Five Guys, I may be a little biased, but Shake Shack’s burger did little to woo me over. A mixture of ground brisket and sirloin, I was expecting more flavor here than from their ground chuck competitors, but I didn’t notice any real difference. The tomato slice had good heft, but a burger bite that was mostly tomato revealed a disappointing lack of flavor, especially compared to the lovely Jersey tomatoes I grew up with. Their use of American cheese was perfect, though, echoing Shake Shack’s laidback, summer vibe and recalling childhood memories of backyard cookouts. A more liberal amount of Shake sauce (or even ketchup) would have been nice, but the burger was still juicy, and didn’t soak through its soft bun.

Shake Shack serves a decent, respectable burger. It’s not worth an hour’s wait, and definitely not on a hot, sunny Saturday! But on a warm, summer night, with the Square’s fountain running, Shake Shack’s Edison bulbs dangling from the trees, and Manhattan’s traffic at a low rumble, it was almost like being transported to your favorite Jersey Shore boardwalk stand. On a night like last night, I’d absolutely walk those two blocks over - especially to try that Double Stack.

(see full menu here)


This is very exciting - I’ve finally taken my love of food to the next level! I graduated from college in May 2008 and spent the last year commuting to New York City, living at home with my parents, and going stir-crazy. This maddening boredom led to indulging my already overwhelming obsession with food and cooking. I spent countless evenings looking up new recipes online, reading different blogs, and adding more cookbooks to my bookshelf than regular books. By this time, I’d become a sort of expert on both Excel and the New York food & dining scene. It seemed right to take this obsession to the next level, so here is Little Scarlet - my own blog about the foods I love and the places that serve them.

Little Scarlet will focus primarily on New York restaurants, but I hope it will gradually grow to include recipes, new foods (or at least foods that are new to me), and general food happenings of New York City. Of course, if I go on vacation, Little Scarlet comes with me, so look out for food updates about other places, as well!

What’s in the future from here? Food writing? Food editing? Maybe even covering the occasional food/food-related festival?

I hope you’ll stick around and find out!