Tidbits for Political Junkies with Short Attention Spans & Hearty Appetites


Wednesday, June 29, 2005


The Speech

There are only a few clear take-aways from Bush’s speech last night.

One, the persistent failure of the reality in Iraq to conform to his rosy prediction has taught him absolutely nothing.

Two, when confronted by inconvenient facts or – worse – inconvenient poll numbers – his default strategy is to Lie Harder. Why wouldn’t he? It’s worked for him so far.

Three, no matter how often a lie has been discredited, that won’t stop him from repeating it – or at least slyly suggesting it – whenever it happens to be convenient to his political purposes. It takes a mind-bending effort of mendacity to continue to associate the Iraq war with 9/11 – and yet he does so no less than five times. It takes even more mind-bending leaps of logic to suggest that we are in Iraq to fight the terrorists – who weren’t even there when this debacle began.

Four, he remains constitutionally incapable of recognizing that, for any given circumstance, there might actually be more than two possible courses of action. The only choice he sees is between continuing what he’s been doing all along – and quitting altogether. It’s as if, while barreling down the highway, he sees a sign declaring that the bridge ahead is out – and concludes that he can only “bravely forge ahead,” or turn tail and go home. Not to worry, dear, that bridge is on the mend…

The possibility of an alternate route eludes him.

In short, we’re screwed. We got into this war because we had a commander-in-chief who was utterly disconnected from reality – and we will remain at war, at yet-unimagined costs in lives and dollars and dislocation, until we have a commander-in-chief who is worthy of the name.

I live in New York, so I would never speak lightly 9/11. But as devastatingly awful as that day was – it pales in comparison to the harm George W Bush has done, and continues to do, by invoking its memory.


Wednesday, April 13, 2005


Mark Bittman Doesn’t Get it

In Today’s Times, there’s a piece where Mark Bittman – in a fairly shameless bit of self-promotion for an upcoming television series – contrasts his own cooking with that of a famous chef. In today’s article, he contrasts a Jean-Georges Vongerichten recipe for sea bass fillets, with his own far simpler creation “sesame crusted fish.” The Jean-Georges recipe, as described, runs eight steps, and takes a full hour. Bittman’s recipe has four steps, and takes fifteen minutes.

There are several problems with his story.

The most obvious is that Mark is comparing a recipe for nothing more than a piece of fish -- with a complete entree that includes a full complement of side vegetables. Unless you count sesame seeds as a vegetable, he hasn't actually cooked dinner. So his comparison of the time involved, or the number of steps, or even the number of ingredients, is practically meaningless.

The next problem is that Mark cleverly ignores the fact that nearly all of the Jean-George dish can be prepared in advance. The beauty of this type of approach is that you could literally do all of the prep work, and then go out for cocktails, secure in the knowledge that you can finish your dinner in ten minutes ... whenever the mood strikes, using only two pans.

What the Jean-George recipe actually describes is a simple and elegant method of cueing up a dish ahead of time. All of the vegetables that need cooking at all are cooked in advance. The mushrooms are cooked merely to create a tasty bit of stock. The nuts and spices are toasted and blended ahead of time. Even browning the butter can be done early -- but I wouldn't bother; I would just brown the butter at the last minute, and stir the mushroom stock in to cool it.

The final steps come down to this: "warm up the vegetables in a flavored brown butter while you saute a piece of fish." How hard is that, really?

Here's my take on how you can do this at home. Any time during the afternoon, or up to several days ahead of time, you can complete the first four steps of the Jean-Georges recipe. In fact, these steps can even be completed before you buy the fish. [Note: for some reason, I can't get the link to the online version of the recipe to work; you should be able to find it by linking to the article, and then following related links the the "Sea Bass Filets with Mushroom Beurre Noisette"]

In steps one and two, you're making a mushroom stock, which you can reserve in a tiny container. In step three, which you can do while you're doing steps one and two, you make a nut and spice mixture. This you can also reserve in a tiny container. (I wouldn't fret, by the way, if I didn't have exactly two almonds and exactly two hazelnuts on hand to make this stuff. Pick or on the other, or pick up a jar of mixed nuts and pick them out.) In step four, you're pre-cooking the vegetables, which you can also easily manage while doing steps one through three. Dump these together into yet another tiny container, and you're ready to roll. (You may as well chop your herb garnish while you're at it, too.)

You now have three little containers (or four including the herbs), with everything you need to head start the dish: a bit of mushroom stock, a nut-and-spice mixture, and some pre-cooked vegetables. You also have your fish filets, and some cherry tomatoes -- which you haven't touched yet. The rest of the ingredients are fairly typical pantry items.

Now here's the final dish, in four steps, which should take not more than ten or fifteen minutes, (including the time to warm up the pans):

  1. Brown 3 Tablespoons of butter in a small sauce pan. Stop the cooking by adding the mushroom stock (stand back; it will spatter a bit). Keep warm.
  2. Place a skillet over high heat. Meanwhile, season and coat the fish fillets. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Brush with cream. Then press only the flesh side into the nut and spice mixture.
  3. Melt 2 Tablespoons butter (I would use clarified butter here, or 1 T butter + 1 T oil) in the skillet, then lay the fish fillets in skin side down. Cook 3-4 minutes per side. (Here I question the recipe: I might fire up the oven, start the fish on the stove top, and then let them finish in the oven, without flipping them at all. You're less likely to leave a lot of burnt nut-and-spice mix in the pan that way).
  4. While the fish cooks, warm the vegetables. Add the onions, beans, and cherry tomatoes to the mushroom-brown butter sauce, and gently heat through. To serve, place the vegetables with the sauce in a warm serving bowl, place the fish filets on top, garnish and serve immediately.

The bottom line: since Bittman's dish isn't a complete dinner -- there's absolutely no basis for the claim that his method is any quicker or easier. The Jean-Georges recipe, on the other hand, is interesting -- and readily adaptable to busy schedules.


I'm Baaaccck

This will be the short version, just to see if anyone is still out there.

One more post will follow today, a comment on Mark Bittman's piece in today's times.

Don't expect daily posts -- but weekly may be feasible, depending on how it fits in with other projects. |

Wednesday, August 11, 2004


The Convention Cheap Eats Guide

Yeah, I know. I haven’t exactly been posting a lot lately (work seems to be intervening). But I’ll try to make it up to you here & now with a Digestible News exclusive: my personal guide, as a longtime resident, to cheap eats in lower Manhattan. Think of it as a service to visiting media, bloggers, protesters, etc. There is no attempt to be comprehensive: for every place I’ve included, there are a least a few more that I considered, and probably many times more than that that I just don’t know about. The idea here is not overwhelm you with choices – just to provide a worthy handful.

One note: If you happen to be at the convention, or otherwise at Madison Garden, you are basically screwed food-wise. Manhattan has a well-deserved reputation for wonderful food – but not as a result of anything you are likely to find in the handful of blocks closest to Madison Square Garden or Penn Station. What you will find is just about every fast-food chain you can think of, all of which, due to sheer volume, have trouble even on a normal day maintaining their franchise standards (“70% satisfaction every time”) – so who knows what the situation will be during the convention. The alternatives are largely a lot more expensive and not all that good (“sports bars,” unsurprisingly, abound); your best bet is to head at least a few blocks away from the area, if you can – and all of these choices fit the bill. The subway is your friend here: within minutes, you can be halfway across town – and they are largely impervious to street-level congestion.

An absolute must is take-out only Daisy May’s BBQ, the most convincing evidence yet that you can, after all, get good barbecue in New York. Their main location is 46th Street & 11th Avenue – but there are also carts offering an abbreviated menu dotted around town: 39th &amp;amp;amp;amp; Broadway (i.e., a five minute walk from the Garden); 50th & Sixth Avenue; and near 40 Wall Street. The barbecue is the real thing – cooked “low and slow” over wood – and the chef, who clearly has a gift for flavor, is a veteran of several of the city’s high-end dining establishments (Daniel, Le Cirque, etc). There’s no need to apologize for this stuff as “budget” food: it’s flat out delicious, by any standard. As a North Carolinian, I’m predictably smitten by their pulled pork – though on my last visit, I was having such a tough time deciding between that and the Texas brisket that I bought one of each (conveniently, their packaging – ready-to assemble kits with bun, barbecue, and toppings in separate containers -- makes it easy to save an extra sandwich in the fridge to enjoy later). For $8 bucks a sandwich – it’s hard to go wrong.

For pizza lovers, SliceNY has already done a nice job of highlighting the landmark destinations, even assembling a visitor’s guide at GOPizza, so I won’t repeat their efforts here. Their ostensible claim is that they are “making nice” to the visiting Republicans, but my own guess is that the hordes of protesters will likely be more grateful for, and deserving of, this effort. In lower Manhattan, John’s on Bleecker (just below 7th Ave), and Lombardi’s on Spring Street (at Mott) are the essential stops (both have coal ovens); just be aware that if you show up at peak dinner hours (7-9 PM), you may also mean long lines.

If you’re in the vicinity of Lombardi’s, also consider Café Gitane (242 Mott), about a block away (Just north of the corner of Prince & Mott). This is a casual café with vibrant French/Moroccan fare, including exceptional salads and sandwiches. There’s almost nothing on the menu over ten bucks. The last time I was there, dinner for two, including a decent bottle of Alsatian Reisling, came in under $50 bucks – and more than half of that cost was the wine.

For Pannini (which is what you call grilled-cheese sandwiches when you upgrade the ingredients & charge eight bucks for them), the essential stop is ‘ino on Bedford Street, the place that started the craze. You’ll be amazed at what they can do with the right ingredients, a couple of sandwich presses, and a few toaster ovens. Consider the “Quatre-pannini” -- which for two extra bucks allows you the privilege of ordering not just one sandwich, but your pick of four different quarter-sandwiches. (And don’t miss the truffled egg toast, for $7). The wine list is appealing, reasonable and all Italian; if you’re unfamiliar with Italian wines, ask for help, or a small taste. They’ll work with you. They’re open from 9 in the morning until 2 AM; best bet again is off-peak hours. One warning: the place is so comfortable, it’s very easy to keep ordering wine. One memorable afternoon last fall, I walked in with two friends, and we managed to spend less than $20 on food – but then couldn’t pass on the temptation to order a second bottle of wine. Total tab: about eighty bucks – still not bad, all things considered.

‘ino, by the way, is just a few blocks from John’s Pizza – and has a larger sister location in the Lower East Side, at Ludlow & Rivington. Another worthy choice for pannini, is Bread in Soho – on Spring Street about a block east of Lombardi’s.

Grand Sichuan. Ninth Avenue & 24th Street. This place frankly looks like a dump from outside – and the interior has all the charm of a basement rec room that hasn’t been re-decorated in thirty years; but you don’t go here for the atmosphere. It’s not uncommon to have to wait for a table here – but tables turn very quickly, so the wait is rarely long. Specialties are the soup dumplings, which you must experience if you’ve never tried them, and tea-smoked duck.

El Cocotero (18th Street between 7th & 8th Avenues) This new addition to Chelsea’s restaurant offerings has been an instant, if low-key, hit. The food is honest, simple, Venezuelan fare; the atmosphere casual and friendly; and the prices right. Arepas with tasty fillings are around five bucks (I’m fond of a version called Reina Pepiada, shredded chicken with avocado & cilantro); main courses hover around ten; and, since the place does not have a liquor license yet, you can bring in your own beer or wine.

The Lunchbox Food Company (West Side Highway between Clarkson & Leroy Streets). Okay, I admit it: I’d go there just to sit in their back garden all afternoon and drink their insidiously good ginger-sake lemonade. But the food is also good, and certainly good value. In general, the menu is cooking-school-grads do diner food, and they pull it off well. Even potentially dull staples such as tuna salad can surprise here: their version is nicely brightened by a sherry vinaigrette, and served with arugula pesto on olive foccacia. This place deserves to be crowded, but seldom is – presumably due to a location that sounds more out-of-the-way than it actually is. Take the #1/9 train to Houston St., walk one block north, and then four relatively short blocks west until you reach the West Side Highway; the Lunchbox will be on your right, just north of the corner, sandwiched between a garage and a car wash. Weather permitting, you’ll be in an ideal location for a stroll afterwards: the Hudson River Park is right across the street.

Pearl Oyster Bar. (18 Cornelia, between Bleecker & West 4th). This one, I admit, isn’t exactly cheap: The lobster rolls are market-priced, typically $20; the fried oyster roll is $15. But for food of this caliber, the place is a bargain. The menu is very simple: a handful of appetizers, the aforementioned rolls, plus a selection of simply prepared fish dishes and whole lobsters; nothing is fancy, just very fresh and expertly prepared. If you can, you’ll want to get a seat at the main bar – where it’s friendlier, and for some reason less cramped than at the small tables in the adjoining room. Long waits at dinner time are not unusual, so figure it into your schedule – or consider going for lunch instead. (N.B. The oyster roll is officially only on the menu at lunch, but I’ve found that if you ask nicely, they’ll often indulge the request at dinner time).

The Shake Shack (south end of Madison Square Park: near 23rd St & Fifth Avenue). Danny Meyer, a restaurateur better known for upscale expense-account destinations, has added to his stable a simple hamburger-and-hot-dog kiosk in the middle of a shady green park. This isn’t wow food, just fresh & honest – and that’s more than enough. Best bets are the Shack Burger ($3.95) and the Chicago Dog (though I haven’t gotten around to trying the shakes yet). Also worth considering is their ‘Shroom Burger – which, while delicious, seems to have been engineered as a subtle form of revenge against self-righteous vegetarians: it’s a whole portabello mushroom cap, topped with cheese, breaded and deep-fried, and served on a bun with lettuce, tomato, and their signature (mayonnaise-based) “shack sauce.” True, no animals were harmed – and please, enjoy it; just don’t pretend it’s good for you. Even the beverage choices include some welcome surprises. You’ll find good lemonade, soft drinks such as Abita’s Root Beer, and respectable beer & wine choices (Brooklyn Lager, $5; Half-bottle Huet Vouvray, $16).

Rainbow Falafel (17th Street near Union Square West). This little take-out only Middle Eastern eatery, in a battered storefront approximately the width of a broom closet, draws such long lines every day at lunchtime that several other establishments have popped up nearby just to peel off a business from the ones who won’t wait. In fairness, however, the lines move fast – and the reason for them becomes obvious when you taste the food. There’s nothing remotely subtle about this stuff, but it’s hard to beat for $3.50. Stop by a deli beforehand and get a tin of Altoids (you’ll want them afterwards) – then carry your sandwich, along with a lot of napkins, into nearby Union Square Park to enjoy.

Other things to consider:

Restaurant Week

For a more upscale dining experience, without the expense, I’d give serious consideration to booking an advance reservation at one of the spots participation in the summer-long “restaurant week.”

The hook is simple: for either $20.12 (at lunch), or $30.12 (at dinner), you can have a three-course meal at one of what are billed as “New York’s best restaurants.” The reality, of course, is that some of the participants in the program are more deserving of this description than others: the trick is to choose carefully (and pay close attention to their level of participation. Some only offer the deal at lunch, a handful only at dinner, etc); the best ones will book up early. A handful that jumped out that I can vouch for personally are Amuse, Aureole, The Mercer Kitchen, and Patria (all four participating at Lunch only); and I’d be equally comfortably steering anyone to Café Boulud, Chanterelle, Jo-Jo, Riingo, Tabla, or Tamarind (also Lunch-only participants); or Montrachet, Tribeca Grill, or Zoe (either Lunch or Dinner).

New York Magazines Cheap Eats List. 103 Selections, including several of the ones included here.

Dessert Places:If you find yourself with a sudden hankering for something sweet, a few places come to mind. La Bergamote, Ninth Avenue & 20th, consistently offers an astonishing array of pastries, all unapologetically butter-laden and French. Miniature tarts and éclairs are just the right size to be irresistible without inducing needless guilt. (Their sandwiches, which may be breathtakingly simple, such as duck pate on a baguette with sliced cornichons, are also delicious). In the West Village, the Magnolia Bakery (Bleecker & West 11th St) is known for their cupcakes, which seem to sell as fast as the bakers can replenish them. Most are apparently consumed within a few feet of the front door. The polar opposite of La Bergamote’s precisely executed art, Magnolia is all homey goodness & buttercream.

The Zagat Guide.

Seriously, if you think you’re going to spend more than $100 on food while you’re in New York (and this is very easy to do in a day), you should have a copy of the Zagat Guide. If it spares you from one bad meal, or helps you find one particularly good one, it’s worth the price. The “Best Buys” section alone can save you the cover price the first time you use it.

I use it in combination with Vindigo – which is handier when you’re trying to figure out what’s closest by, and has everything you need to know about finding anything (maps, subway information, etc). Vindigo also has a few other very useful features for visitors: ATM locations, bathroom locations, etc.


Wednesday, August 04, 2004


A Bridge, the Press, and Metaphor

Among the provisions for the upcoming RNC convention that caught my attention just a few weeks ago was the construction of a temporary bridge over Eighth Avenue. The idea was to provide convenient access for the press, between their encampments in the old Farley Post Office, and the convention itself across the Avenue in Madison Square Garden.

At the time, it occurred to me that this might also provide an interesting vantage point towards the protests outside, which will be conveniently corralled only a block or two below the point where the bridge passes.

Today, walking by the place, I was disabused of that notion.

The bridge itself, for all intents and purposes, is an above-ground tunnel – completely shrouded in blue canopies. As a result, the press will be able to travel between their own operations and the convention, directly through one of the busiest areas of the city, without ever making contact, or even seeing, the world outside.

While this seems an apt enough metaphor for the Republican Party, I had hoped it wouldn’t apply quite so obviously to the press as well.

Apparently not -- though I may yet be proven wrong.

I can’t rule out the possibility that those blinding canopies are just a temporary part of the construction process, and that – come the convention days – clear views will prevail.

But, between you and me, and I wouldn’t bet on it.


Friday, July 30, 2004


Let Them Eat Prozac

Great moments in compassionate conservatism:

A campaign worker for President Bush (news - web sites) said on Thursday American workers unhappy with low-quality jobs should find new ones -- or pop a Prozac to make themselves feel better.


Wednesday, July 28, 2004



I had fully intended to leave the convention blogging to the bloggers who are actually at the convention -- but Barack Obama's speech last night was just too damn good.

It was brilliant on many levels -- not the least of which is that it managed the neat trick of being deeply impassioned, while at the same time being so indisputably reasonable that the Right is now twisting itself into knots trying to figure out what to attack.

If the meaning of "awesome" hadn't been sucked out of the word from overuse, this would be a fine time to use it. Add "inspiring," and you're getting there...


I'm not surprised

Judge orders Rocco out of Rocco's.:

Yesterday, after a pretrial hearing to determine who owns Rocco's, Justice Ira Gammerman of State Supreme Court in Manhattan granted a motion barring Mr. DiSpirito from the restaurant. The justice had issued a temporary restraining order last month at the request of Mr. DiSpirito's partners, Jeffrey Chodorow and China Grill Management.


Mr. DiSpirito testified at the two-day hearing that he had made an oral agreement with Mr. Chodorow to be a 50 percent partner in the ownership of Rocco's. His lawyers referred to drafts of contracts that were being negotiated as Rocco's was hurried into business to meet the scheduling demands of the reality show. The agreements were never finalized.

So let me get this straight, Rocco. Someone puts up $4 Million for you to open a restaurant. You screw it up royally, and yet you still imagine that you own half of it, on the strength of an oral agreement?



Friday, July 23, 2004


Starbucks, Move Over

There's a better option for the mid-afternoon blahs.


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