Monday, January 31, 2011

Simplethings Sandwich & Pie Shop

When I think of W. 3rd Street, two words come to mind: "bruncher's paradise." From Joan's on Third to Toast to Doughboys, the stretch east of the Beverly Center certainly has no shortage of options for your brunching needs. To this list one may also add Simplethings Sandwich and Pie Shop, a newly opened sandwich and pie shop.

With its cozy and cute decor, an even mix of breakfast and lunch options, outdoor seating, and a little something sweet to finish up the meal, Simplethings seemed right up my alley.

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For my meal, I ordered the hash ($9.00). The dish featured a hefty mound of cubed corned beef and sweet potatoes, topped with a poached egg and toast. Despite the hash's simplicity and the inclusion of normally enjoyable ingredients, the dish was a complete disappointment. The sweet potatoes were extremely unevenly cooked; whereas some cubes were soft, others tasted as if they had not been cooked at all. Furthermore, as a whole, the combination of the meat and potatoes created a very unpleasantly dry dish.

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J fared better than I with his French toast ($9.00), which was filled with mascarpone cheese and topped with blueberries. The mascarpone cheese and blueberries paired nicely together to create an interesting mix of tastes and textures. The already sweet dish, however, probably could have done without the kitchen's addition of maple syrup.

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Because Simplethings' interior prominently features its dessert display case, we decided to also try their pie.

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We ordered a mini cherry pie ($2.50), but were given a blueberry one instead. Upon mentioning the snafu, however, we were given our original order but invited to keep the blueberry. Sadly, both were awful. From the generic-tasting filling to the undercooked, impossible to cut crust that reminded me of an uncooked Pop Tart, nothing about these pies was enjoyable, and I ate only one bite of each. J and I were both baffled as to how a restaurant's namesake could be so unappetizing.

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After sharing my disappointment in my brunch with friends, one remarked that she quite enjoyed her sandwich from Simplethings. Maybe I should re-visit the shop and order a sandwich and just avoid the pie? Maybe. Probably not.

Simplethings
8310 W. 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 592-3390

simplethings Sandwich & Pie Shop on Urbanspoon
Simplethings Sandwich & Pie Shop in Los Angeles on Fooddigger

Friday, January 14, 2011

Burgers, Shakes and Fries (Greenwich, CT)

During every trip to New York, the gastronome trio-- J, his brother and I-- reserve one afternoon to drive to Connecticut. For lunch. Admittedly, the drive requires only 25 minutes or so but, still, it's Connecticut.

The object of our cross-state desire is always the same-- Burgers, Shakes and Fries (a.k.a. BSF), located in the quaint Byram section of Greenwich.

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BSF opened in 2007, the brainchild of Kory Wollins, a Cornell grad with over 15 years of experience in the hospitality industry. According to BSF's website, Wollins' objective was to serve quality food at a reasonable price in an inviting environment, filling what he saw as a dearth of restaurants that provided bang for your buck. In essence, Wollins is a man after my own heart--and makes a mean burger.

With its tangerine walls and generous amounts of natural light streaming in from over-sized windows, the interior of BSF is bright and welcoming. On this post-Snowpocalypse weekday, many potential lunchers were either still snowed in or back at work, leaving us with our pick of seats. We were pleased because previous visits to the 20-seater restaurant had forced us to hover near those finishing up their meal in order to snag a seat.

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BSF also serves hot dogs, chicken sandwiches and salads, but why would you ignore a restaurant's namesake? All burgers start plain--as either a single or a double-- and can be customized with an impressive selection of toppings.

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While Adam sipped on a birch beer, J and I shared a strawberry milkshake ($2.83), which was delightfully thick and sweet.

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Feeling the post-holiday bloat, I ordered a fairly simple burger-- cooked to medium with tomatoes, onions, pickles, cheddar cheese and ketchup and mayo-- and our trio split an order of large fries.

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Instead of the usual bun, BSF's burgers are sandwiched between two pieces of buttered, toasted bread. Although this switch-up seemed strange to me at first, I quickly noticed that the bread perfectly soaks up all of the juices from the burger and its toppings. On this day, my burger arrived, juicy and glistening, coated with a generous slice of melting cheese. Each bite provided a satisfying crunch courtesy of the toast followed by a heavenly sink through the meat and toppings. I have sampled few other burgers that come close to BSF's on the "Satisfying-ness of Bite" scale.

Delicious burgers at a reasonable price are the reason Wollins started BSF and the reason I keep returning.

BSF
302 Delavan Avenue
Greenwich, CT 06830
(203) 531-7433

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Num Pang (New York)

Gastronomically speaking, any trip to New York is too short. Several days (or weeks, even) are simply not enough time to eat everything one hopes to gorge themselves upon and certainly not enough time to eat at the same restaurant twice. Right? Wrong.

One night, I found myself searching for a (super) quick 'n tasty spot for dinner with a friend. I was on a tight schedule, but this was the one mutually free time for me and my friend during my trip. As such, I wanted our meal to be tasty and memorable. My best friend B suggested Num Pang, an Asian fusion sandwich shop near Union Square.

As this was the first I had heard of the restaurant, I didn't know what to expect other than, well, sandwiches. What I certainly did not expect was for my five-spice glazed pork belly sandwich ($7.50) to become one of my favorite things I ate in 2010. With juicy, flavorful pork belly dripping with fatty goodness plus the kick of Sriracha mayo juxtaposed against the sweetness of a pickled Asian pear, the sandwich was Heaven on a perfectly toasted baguette.

Two days later, when B and I found ourselves contemplating lunch options, cries of "Num Pang! Num Pang!" rattled around in my head. I felt that I really should try something new, but the pull of pork belly was too strong. With that, for the second time in three days, I trekked to Num Pang.

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The tiny shop is divided into two stories-- the first houses the kitchen and ordering area, and the second holds counters with an assortment of stools and benches for sit-down eating.

Upon approaching the cashier, I didn't even look at the menu; I knew why I was at Num Pang. Unfortunately, however, they were out of the pork belly sandwich (*angrily shakes fists at sky*), and I opted instead for the pulled pork sandwich since I had amped myself up for porcine goodness.

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For her lunch, B ordered the peppercorn catfish sandwich with house-made sweet soy sauce ($7.50). Although she's a Num Pang regular, this her first time ordering the catfish, and she was impressed by the generous portion of fish and the kick of the peppercorn.

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My sammie of pulled Duroc pork with spicy honey ($7.50) featured densely packed, juicy pulled pork topped with shredded carrots, cucumber, cilantro, all sandwiched between two pieces of toasted baguette slathered with Sriracha mayo. The spicy honey added a unique and unexpected dimension to the smoky pulled pork, and the sturdy baguette held up well despite it's juicy contents. Although I could recommend this sandwich to anyone in good conscience, I still pined for the pork belly.

If I lived anywhere remotely near Num Pang, I'm sure I'd be on the first name basis with the staff. After all, there's still the coconut tiger shrimp, hoisin veal meatball and ginger barbecue brisket sandwiches to try...

Num Pang
www.numpangnyc.com
21 E. 12th Street
(b/w University Pl. and 5th Ave.)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 255-3271

Num Pang on Urbanspoon
Num Pang in New York on Fooddigger

Monday, January 10, 2011

Phydough Truck

If there is one thing Angelenos love (more than themselves, that is), it is their four-legged companions. Dog owners gladly shell out for niceties such as doggy raincoats, puppy booties and kibble with a price tag rivaling their own grocery bill. Fittingly, the latest food truck to hit the streets of LA is one in service of man's best friend.

Say "woof" to the Phydough Truck, a CoolHaus collaboration serving cookies, ice cream and "phydough" (for home baking) all made especially for your pooch. To please those with discriminating tastes, all of the truck's offerings are prepared with organic, human-grade and locally-sourced ingredients.

Phydough Truck

The Phydough Truck offers not only cookies and ice cream but also--what else?-- ice cream sandwiches inspired by a real-life pooch.

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Although I feared I might be barking up the wrong tree in trying Phydough for myself, my newest roommate happily volunteered to act as taste-taster.

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After arriving at the truck on a sunny Sunday morning, J and I ordered a scoop of PB & bacon ice cream ($2.00) for our girl Mona because, if the things she licks off the floor are any indication, she is a fan of both.

PB & Bacon Ice Cream from Mona @ Phydough Truck

After a sniff and a quizzical first lick, Mona sunk her snout into the cup and did not emerge until she had licked it clean. So much for J's argument that she might not like the ice cream's chilly temperature.

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We also picked up three cookies ($5.00)-- red velvet, peanut butter and original.

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Quite the princess, Mona also got a sample of her red velvet cookie. After gobbling up her half- cookie, she jumped off the seat to lick up the crumbs that had fallen on the floor of the car!

Mona w/ a red velvet cookie from Phydough Truck

Is $5.00 for three cookies and $4.00 for an ice cream sandwich a bit steep? Sure. Did I care? Not one bit. Seeing Mona's ice cream-plastered nose was priceless. Plus, they're artisanal $5.00 cookies...right?


Need a friend to take to Phydough? Adopt, don't buy! Check out the Amanda Foundation (who rescued Mona from a shelter), Much Love, Karma Rescue or Best Friends!

Phydough Truck

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Traif (Brooklyn, NY)

For any true food fanatic, a trip to New York City necessitates compiling a lengthy to-eat list. Despite varying tastes and budgets, these often lists are often populated by the same handful of names prescribed by the Food Network or Travel Channel: Le Bernardin, Eleven Madison Park, Minnetta Tavern, Shake Shack, Gray's Papaya.

Another restaurant, however, deserves a spot on your NY must-eat list: Traif.

Traif, Brooklyn, NY

Of Hebrew origin, the word "traif" refers to food not in accordance with Jewish dietary laws. For this reason, the restaurant's location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where Hasidic and hipster cultures intersect, is both perfect and ironic (perfectly ironic?).

Traif, Brooklyn, NY

In the kitchen is Chef Jason Marcus, who co-owns the restaurant with girlfriend Heather Heuser. Marcus' impressive resume boasts time at both Le Bernardin and Eleven Madison Park before opening Traif in April 2010. Highbrow cooking without the hefty fine dining price tag? Yes, please. The menu, which changes daily, celebrates the delicious and the forbidden because, let's face it, food is tastier when you're not supposed to eat it.

Traif, Brooklyn, NY

Our table of four--two Jews and two goys-- was greeted with an amuse bouche of miso broth shooters, which instantly zapped our tastebuds' attention with their delightfully and uniquely potent flavor.

Miso amuse bouche @ Traif

Our dinner officially began with the arrival of salt and pepper spicy lobster, sweet potatoes, pineapple and string beans ($15.00). The bite-sized pieces of lobster were creamy on the outside and snappy on the inside-- an overall texture reminiscent of honey walnut shrimp. The pineapple cubes brightened up the mellow flavor of the lobster, but the fruit's trademark tang was kept in check by the butternut squash.

Salt and pepper spicy lobster, sweet potatoes, pineapple, string beans @ Traif

With smoked and braised pork bellies and cheeks as well as kielbasa, the heirloom pork cassoulet ($10.00) boasted enough of the curly-tailed creature to make anyone's bubbe say, "Oy vey!" The porky flavors beautifully soaked into the dish's lentils and came together nicely in a mix of different tastes and textures.

Heirloom pork cassoulet: smoked and braised bellies, cheeks, kielbasa and lentils @ Traif

The duck confit lettuce wraps ($8.00) arrived with shredded duck, cucumber salad and a banana-tamarind sauce to swaddle in soft lettuce leaves. The sauce was sweet but subdued enough to complement rather than overpower the duck's sumptuous flavor.

Duck confit lettuce wraps, cucumber salad, banana tamarind sauce @ Traif

The crispy sweetbreads with purple eggplant, brussel sprouts and fork-mashed Yukons* ($15.00) were a huge hit and favorite of the table. The morsels of sweetbreads were cooked to buttery perfection, practically melting in my mouth. The brussel sprouts were pleasantly crispy and salty, adding a delightful contrast to the sweetness of the sweetbreads. The eggplant added another meaty texture to the dish, while the fork-mashed Yukon potatoes were creamy and added another level of decadence to the exceptional dish.

Crispy sweetbreads, purple eggplant, brussel sprouts, fork-mashed yukons @ Traif

Distinct flavors melded harmoniously in the tender, bite-sized lamb and chorizo meatballs ($8.00). After each bite, the smooth flavor of asiago slowly spread through my whole mouth with a fluid-like ease. I could think of nothing I wanted more than a meatball sub made entirely of these un-kosher goodies.

Lamb and chorizo meatballs, chipotle cream, asiago @ Traif

Our last savory plate was the seared scallops with butternut squash, huckleberries and pumpkin seeds* ($16.00). Given Chef Marcus' time at Le Bernardin, it was no surprise that the scallops were fantastic: perfectly seared on the outside while still moist on the inside. The butternut squash puree was incredibly smooth with a sweetness that complemented the scallops nicely. The pumpkin seeds added a crunch to the dish while the huckleberries added both sweetness and acidity.

Seared scallops, butternut squash, huckleberries, pumpkin seeds @ Traif

For our first dessert, we ordered bacon doughnuts, dulce de leche and coffee ice cream ($6.00), a perfect juxtaposition of things Jewish and forbidden to the Chosen people. Although I like bacon desserts in theory, I usually end up loathing them in actuality. These puffy, doughy morsels, however, were topped with just the right amount of bacon for taste and texture. The side of coffee ice cream made this the sugar addict's breakfast dream. After devouring this plate, we were none too surprised several days later when we heard that New York Magazine had selected the dish as one of its favorite desserts in its Where to Eat 2011 issue.

Bacon doughnuts, dulce de leche, coffee ice cream @ Traif

With whole cranberries and hints of ginger topped with a crumbly crust and passion fruit ice cream, our second dessert was cobbler perfection ($6.00). The tastes, textures and temperatures combined to create something so wonderful that we nearly requested a second order. I am still thinking of this dish and wish that we had gone with our gluttonous instincts.

Cranberry-ginger cobbler, passion fruit ice cream @ Traif

Cranberry-ginger cobbler, passion fruit ice cream @ Traif

All of our dishes were cheeky and inventive and executed remarkably well. We continued to talk about our meal not only for the rest of the night but also for the duration of our trip. We dined at Traif just in time for me to add it to my list of favorite eats in 2010.

Traif
229 S. 4th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(347) 844-9578

Traif on Urbanspoon

Traif in New York on Fooddigger

*Adam M., food writer for the Hastings High School Buzzer (and brother of J!), contributed to this post.