May 31, 2007

Ninth Street Espresso

After satisfying my beer craving, the next thing I went in search of was a good espresso. I was surprised to discover that despite the large Italian population in NYC, that finding a hard core modern espresso was a bit of a challenge. Names that I found were "Casa" on 9th Ave at 40th, Ninth Street Espresso (at Avenue C), Via Quadronno 73rd St near 5th, and few others. Casa was close to the hotel so I tried it first. Apparently it's now a muffin shop. Sigh. Strike one.

Next I tried Ninth Street Espresso, took the A to 14th, then the L to 1st. Walked about a half mile to 9th and Ave C. This place had wooden benches out front with bikes chained to the rail and kids with messenger bags smoking out front. Looked good. Insidethe "house rules" said things like "no half-regular half-decaf" and the menu was reassuringly brief, with the magical words "all coffee drinks are made triple ristretto." This looked very promising.

First, a single espresso. The crema was maybe a little dark, but the coffee had a nice aroma. It was thick slightly sweet and maybe a touch bitter (which may sound odd to 99.9% of the population for whom all espresso is bitter and ristretto is ridiculously bitter) maybe slightly over extracted or over roasted? But that was a quibble - this was espresso that invited critical scrutiny.

Next a double, with a croissant. Served in a slightly larger cup, the flavor was just as good as the last, and the thick crema lasted all the way to the bottom of the cup. Ahhh. The croissant was unremarkable, but I had come here for the coffee and coffee I had found.

May 30, 2007

Hop Devil Grill

I landed at JFK, took the subway to my hotel, showered, changed and went in search of the thing I miss the most - a good hoppy ale. As I walked out of the hotel a dykey bicycle courier checked me out looked me in the eye and said "Nice hair, guy." Right then I knew - I was with my people.

I'd done a little homework, and it seemed from what people were saying that "The Hop Devil Grill" in the East Village was likely to have what I wanted. I walked in to a place that a couple dozen taps along the wall and twice that many bottles ranked above them. Lots of familiar names - Stone Pale Ale, Stone Arrogant Bastard, Mendocino Brewing Red Tail, Sam Adams, Rogue. I mentioned I was in search of an intensely hoppy IPA and the barman smiled and pointed at the one hand pulled tap.

"Have you tried Hop Angel? Intensely hopped, cask conditioned, hand pulled IPA - and it's local. Brewed in New York." He was speaking my language. If I had specified my dream beer that's what I would have asked for. I asked for a pint.

The first sip confirmed all my hopes. First came citrus from dry hopping, intense grapefruit, followed by crisp maltiness, hardly sweet at all, just enough to balance the finishing bitterness. I smiled and nodded and said "This is a good beer." The barman smiled back and nodded.

If you're looking for real ale in Manhattan, I suggest looking at Hop Devil Grill.

May 27, 2007

T'Chi

Lots of people have been saying "Oh you have to try T'chi!" whenever I mention I like chinese, or that I liked some other place. So last weekend I tried it. We were... disappointed.

Many people, people whose taste in food I trust, have told us that T'Chi is one of the best, most authentic, chinese restaurants in Bangalore. After our experience at Nanking, some of them have explicitly told us to suspend judgement till we tried T'Chi. So it was with a sense of heightened expectations that we finally went to try it.

First we had to find it. The location is described as "Edwards Road at Queens Road." No problem, we hop in an auto and tell the driver to take us to Queens Road. He obliges, treating us to a mini-tour of Shivajinagar on the way. He has no idea where Edwards Road is, of course, and apparently neither do any of the people we ask walking down Queens Road. We continue slowly cruising down the road looking for a sign. What non-Bangaloreans may not realize is that Queens Road is one-way, and like many one-way roads in Bangalore, the one-way direction is not constant over time. One day it's one-way one direction then suddenly with no warning the next day you may find that it's changed to one-way the other way. Queens Road has changed direction in the recent past, and the signs have not adjusted (not that it would have helped.) Eventually as we were getting close to the end of Queens Road Debbie said "there's something red down that side street, maybe that's it." We got out, and amazingly enough it was!

Entering, the decor seemed Chinese enough, and we as we looked over the menu, it looked promising with many familiar dishes. I called the waiter over and said "we'd like some recommendations. We're familiar with chinese food, and we are looking for something authentic. Authentic chinese food, not what you serve tourists." "Yes sir, very good sir." "So we'd like you to recommend your best most authentic dishes." "Yes sir." The first dish he recommended was a crispy fried spring roll. Now I thought this was an inauspicious start, as this is a Vietamese dish, but I had resolved to go with his recommendations. The second dish he recommended was a Guilin Prawn which, from the menu description didn't seem so interesting, but again we would try what he suggested.

The spring rolls arrived on on lettuce leaves, garnished with mint - a good sign. They also came with chili flakes, a sweet/sour chili sauce, and chopped peanuts. I decorated my spring roll and took a bite. To my surprise the entire thing was filled with one solid lump of chinese dumpling (jiao tze) filling! Vietnamese spring rolls should have some bean sprouts, some julienned vegetables in them to add color and texture contrast. This was just wrong. I was starting to worry a little.

Next the "Guilian Prawns." Guilin cuisine combines some of the elements of Hunan and Canton. It's often delicately sweet and spicy, and can include strongly flavored ingredients. These were whole prawns on skewers, covered in a sweet sauce but to my surprise they came on a hot cast iron platter, and arrived at the table in a cloud of smoke and steam. He'd recommended a prawn sizzler to us! When I questioned him about it he said "Oh when I saw you I knew you'd like this dish, all the expats like it." Excuse me? When I said "authentic" and "not tourist food" was that somehow unclear?

The prawns themselves were quite fresh and tasty, the heads were flavorful and the prawn bodies were meaty and flavorful. The sauce was sweet and had no spiciness at all, just a heavy hand with with ginger and garlic. It was at this point that I decided that I'd order the rest of the meal myself.

We decided to go with Szechuan Chicken, Lamb Hot Pot, and plain white rice. These are two classic dishes, and would show off two very different cooking styles. The Szechuan Chicken is a classic stir fried dish, of small cubes of chicken in a tangy, fragrant, spicy sauce. Properly done it should have a good aroma of the wok, and the sauce should just coat the other ingredients. It's a deceptively simple looking dish, but shows off the ability of the chef with the wok. Lamb hot pot is a dish that requires a long simmering to get the deep flavor in the broth, and shows off the kitchen's ability with slow cooked simmered foods.

This Szechuan Chicken was assorted sized chunks of chicken with green bell pepper and carrots. There were no red chilis in the dish at all, and the entire dish was swimming in a glutinous brown sauce that seemed to be not much more than soy sauce thickened with cornstarch. It was boring, graceless, and nothing like any Szechuan Chicken I've ever had.

At this point I was past disappointed and well in to annoyed. When the rice arrived we asked for bowls and chopsticks, and I asked for them in my bad Chinese just because I was frustrated with our waiter. Of course he had no idea what I was asking, and I don't think it was my bad pronunciation. It was petty, but I wanted to show my frustration.

The "Hot Pot" was worse. It was served over some kind of warming flame which I found odd, and when opened it was clear that this was just another stir-fry served in another puddle of cornstarch thickened brown sauce. At least this one had some ginger flavor.

Enough people have recommended this place that we will give it another try, but next time I'm either going with a regular, someone who knows the chef, or armed with a list of dishes to order.