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Shake Shack (Manhattan, NY) – The Place May Be Shakin’ But This Ain’t No Shack

June 8, 2010

When I first imagined Shake Shack, I imagined some run-down hole in the wall that served burgers like the ones you can find in the hood in LA. Seeing it in person, I realized – the place may be shakin’ but this ain’t no shack.

The modern looking “shack” you see above is the Shake Shack. Known for their burgers and frozen custard shakes, it is the only place I’ve heard of on the East Coast with a cult following that rivals In-N-Out’s. I mean, if you thought the drive-thru at In-N-Out was long, just LOOK at the line of people snaking through Madison Square Park. (It’s so long, they even let you can even keep tabs on their line via their “Shack Cam”!) Luckily, I caught the line at a slow point – it only took me about half an hour to get to the front and order the most loaded burger they’ve got.

The Shack Stack is the love child of their regular Shake Shack cheeseburger and their specialty ‘Shroom burger. You have your normal meat patty and cheese, topped with lettuce, tomato and Shack Sauce, as well as a crispy fried portobello filled with melted muenster and cheddar cheese sandwiched in the middle. Personally, I think I would have rather had a regular burger sans ‘shroom. When I have a portobello mushroom in a sandwich, I want to taste it; however, because it was battered, fried and stuffed with cheese, I couldn’t really taste the mushroom hidden inside.

‘Shroom aside, I did enjoy the rest of the burger. The patty itself was juicy and flavorful. The oozing muenster and cheddar may have overpowered the portobello, but complimented the meat naturally. I did find myself wanting more than one leaf of lettuce (a want spawned from my In-N-Out upbringing), but I was willing to overlook the lack of crisp lettuce for the soft potato bread buns.

In a city that feels like it never stops moving, these juicy patties and fluffy buns are worth standing still for. It may not look like the hole-in-the-wall that I imagined, but Shake Shack’s definitely got the soul of one.

Shake Shack
11 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10010
(212) 889-6600

Shake Shack on Urbanspoon

Marea (Manhattan, NY) – This Is Food Porn.

May 20, 2010

Before reading any further, please first watch the following Youtube clip from Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations – Food Porn Part II. (Start watching at 3:10 – That’s when it starts getting gooooood…)

Okay, now that I’ve made you hungry, I’ll also make you jealous: The sea urchin and lardo? The burrata and lobster? The octopus and bone marrow?

I ate that. ALL OF THAT.

I find it fitting that Marea is established right across the southern border of Central Park. When I think of Central Park, I think of a lush, green oasis in a concrete jungle; when I think of Marea, I think of a modern, bright dining room in a sea of older, dim restaurants.

Although the fundamental characteristics between Marea and other NYC fine dining establishments are the same (e.g. big windows, crisp linens, glass centerpieces, etc.), there’s something about Marea that is so visually appealing to me. Maybe it was because I went to Marea on a perfectly sunny spring day, but the whole space just seemed to sparkle the moment I walked in. This has to be one of my favorite dining rooms thus far.

Marea’s lunch menu is simple – a two course business lunch for $38, with each additional course costing $19 (although, looking at their online menu now, they’ve increased it to $42 and $21, respectively). The “Ricci” (i.e. the sea urchin and lardo) is not on their lunch menu but after seeing the above No Reservations episode, I begged my way to an order.

(Note: I am going to start transcribing quotes from the No Reservations episode because, honestly, can I describe the following better than King of My Heart? I don’t think so.)

“Two fat sacks of sea urchin roe, plumped with goodness. The briny, swollen membranes held aloft by two tiny chariots of toast. A gossamer thin sheet of lardo, lightly cured pork fat from the mountains of Tuscany, draped over the top and ever so slightly heated, allowed to wilt, to melt over the aroused golden pillows, like a dying swan.” – Anthony Bourdain

Ricci – Sea urchin, lardo, sea salt.

A side tangent: I recently had a very similar dish – uni on toast with olive oil – at Church and State in Los Angeles. There, the olive oil seemed to overwhelm the sea urchin and gave almost a greasy consistency to the uni. This was not the case at Marea.

The sea urchin and lardo, in this instance, were complimentary – Each component maintained the qualities that make it delicious and the other only enhanced the overall taste. The uni was buttery, the lardo was smoky…I only wish we had ordered more.

“Combine seafood and cheese – it’s just not done! It’s like catching your parents having sex! Instinctively, it’s like eww! But not this time…This time it tastes like shame. Delicious, delicious shame.” – Anthony Bourdain

Astice – Nova Scotia lobster, burrata, eggplant al funghetto, basil.

Lobster and burrata. Burrata and lobster. Can you really go wrong? Burrata, by itself, is on my list of favorite things. (Coincidentally enough, sea urchin and bone marrow are also on that list.) Add lobster and it’s become an ever higher ranked favorite!

I was originally worried about the texture of this dish – as Anthony Bourdain already stated, lobster and cheese aren’t really supposed to go together. However, the lobster was firm enough to provide some contrast against the soft burrata.

“It starts innocently enough – hand made fusilli and baby octopus, tossed and mingled together with…OMFG, NO! Bone marrow! The unearthly product melted into and fortifying the sauce like some celestial butter.” – Anthony Bourdain

Fusilli – Durum wheat pasta, red wine braised octopus, bone marrow.

Ordering a pasta dish for lunch after devouring a pasta tasting dinner at Babbo the night before is risky. Finding out that pasta dish can hold its own, even after a full pasta tasting menu, is both relieving and exciting.

The fusilli had great texture, perfectly al dente, and had a great chewiness to it. The octopus was tender, not at all tough. As for the bone marrow? Finding bone marrow was like finding buried treasure – my eyes lit up with every chunk of fatty marrow I dug from underneath the pasta.

To conclude: In the spirit of food porn, let’s just say eating at Marea would be the money shot. (And I’m just going to leave it at that.)

240 Central Park South
New York, NY 10021
(212) 582-5100

Marea on Urbanspoon

Big Gay Ice Cream Truck (Manhattan, NY) – A Salty Pimp and My Big Gay BFF

May 15, 2010

(Picture taken by Jenn)

In a city where ice cream trucks are parked every other block (I think I passed at least four on the way to the BGICT), the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck is one worth finding. Although it may look like a standard ice cream truck from the outside (that is, if you ignore its colorful logo), the flavor combinations that have been known to come out of this truck are anything but standard. Using ingredients such as curry powder, wasabi pea dust, olive oil, sea salt, sriracha…This ain’t your neighborhood ice cream truck.

On this particular day, I was on the search for a choinkwich – a caramelized bacon chocolate ice cream sandwich that Jenn, the other half in my NYC fooding adventures, describes as: “fatty goodness + cold goodness + chewy goodness = heaven“. However, once I found the truck, Doug, the nice guy in the truck, said they weren’t selling them that day. (Story of my life.)

So, I reverted to Plan B: “Doug, what would you recommend to a girl from LA who has never had a big gay ice cream before?”

I got a Salty Pimp.

Again, the above may look like a standard chocolate dipped ice cream cone, with its creamy vanilla ice cream and a crispy chocolate shell, but layered between the ice cream and chocolate is are drizzles of sweet dulce de leche and sprinklings of sea salt. Once you try it, the crunch of sea salt almost becomes a natural accompaniment to the vanilla, chocolate and caramel – specifically, it enhances the flavors of both the chocolate and caramel in this sweet and savory concoction.

And, like that, with a lick of my Salty Pimp, I was sold. The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck is my new big gay best friend.

Big Gay Ice Cream Truck
New York, NY
Twitter: @biggayicecream

Big Gay Ice Cream Truck on Urbanspoon

People’s Pops (Manhattan, NY) – The People Want Shaved Ice!

May 12, 2010

I feel like I miss out on some things by living in Los Angeles. I’m not talking big things; I’m talking about the little ones that you only experience by living in a different city, a different state, a different coast.

For example, hand shaved ice – I’ve never had my shaved ice shaved by hand. I’ve been told it’s very common on the East Coast, with many street vendors shaving ice by hand on the sidewalk. However, I’ve only had ice shaved by a machine, behind the counter of some Asian tea house in the San Gabriel Valley or at a night market in Taiwan. Therefore, seeing this for the first time boggled my mind:

(Yes, the idea of someone running a blade across a gigantic block of ice to make shaved ice is so novel to me that, when I saw it in action, I had to take a video of it.)

People’s Pops is where I had my first hand shaved ice. Located in the famous Chelsea Market in NYC, you can find them at their brand spanking new counter that they just recently moved into about a month ago. The counter, completely covered with popsicle sticks, is simple and classic, and their popsicles and flavored syrups mirror the same characteristics. With all their products made from fresh fruit obtained locally, you can really taste the difference.

Unlike the typical artificial tasting sugar water, the syrup used in my bartlett pear shaved ice was sweet but not overly, rot your teeth sweet. The pear flavor wasn’t as pure as I imagined it to be – you know, that pear taste where you almost feel like you have pear grit in between your teeth – but it was definitely much better than the fluorescent red and blue colored stuff you get at the carnival. The hand shaved ice adds texture to the ice so you more of a crunch with each bite. And, unlike normal artificial shaved ices, I actually wanted to drink (and did drink) the melted slush at the bottom of my cup.

People’s Pops’ popsicles are refreshing too, but I think the shaved ice is still my favorite. Maybe I just like watching them hand shave ice…

People’s Pops
425 West 15th Street
New York NY 10014
Twitter: @peoplespops

53rd and 6th Halal Cart (Manhattan, NY) – The Million Dollar Question: Why?

May 5, 2010

An actual conversation while standing in line at the 53rd and 6th Halal Cart:

(This is considered a very short line.)

Stranger: Is everyone waiting in this line waiting for this cart?
Us: Yup.
Stranger: What makes this cart so special? I always see people waiting for this cart. None of the other guys have lines. Why go to this one…?

Now THAT is the million dollar question. Why?

The 53rd and 6th Halal Cart currently has 965 reviews on Yelp with a 4.5 star average rating. 94% of people “liked” it on Urbanspoon. It even has it’s own Wikipedia page. What makes this halal cart so different from the other dozen halal carts parked down the street? (Btw, you know you’ve hit it big time when googling an intersection links directly to your cart.)

(This is their specialty – chicken and rice.)

After tasting it for myself, I’ve decided: It’s their white sauce. It has to be. I can’t come up with any other reason but that.

Their specialty platter is essentially just lettuce, rice, chicken and pita with whatever sauces you decide to load it up with. Now take the sauce away from the equation: The lettuce is lettuce. The rice is rice. The chicken is a bit mushy. The pita is nice and fluffy but people don’t order “chicken and rice” for the pita. Honestly, without the sauce, it’s average at best.

However, the white sauce almost transforms this plate of blah to one that even I found myself craving the morning after. What’s in the sauce? No one knows…secret recipe. It’s creamy, not heavy, the consistency isn’t too thick but it’s also not watered down by any means. There are no distinct seasonings that jump out at you. I’m not even going to begin to guess what’s in it. All I know is that the white sauce has to be the reason why this cart gets more foot traffic than all the other carts in the area combined.

WARNING: The 53rd and 6th Cart has a white sauce and a red sauce. The white sauce, I’ve already explained above. The red sauce is suicide hot. Like, PAINFULLY SPICY. The cart even has a caution sign for the hot sauce. I put a little of it on my plate – didn’t think it was too bad so I added a lot more. Um…Yeah. Don’t do that. My mouth was on fire for a good five minutes. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t focus, my tongue was numb…

…Just stick to the white sauce.

53rd and 6th Halal Cart
53rd St and 6th Ave
New York, NY 10019

53rd and 6th Halal Cart on Urbanspoon