Crunchy Bottoms

Striking the caloric balance. Barely.

Monthly Archives: April 2013

New York City 2012: Four & Twenty Blackbirds

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I was just talking to a friend about pies the other day, about how there seems to be a dearth in places selling traditional hand-made pies – pies the kind your grandmother would make (if she was American). Good ol’ crusty, buttery, rustic pies, crimped unevenly at the edges with quick fingers and filled to the brim with filling. Grandma would roll out supple pastry sheets speckled with butter, tuck the edges into a snug pie pan, layer yet another sheet on top to sandwich it all, and then slip everything into a toasty oven to brown and to perfume the home with the heady scent of Pie.

I think it’s about time we all got American grandmothers of our own.

DSC_0558Of course, I thought of Four & Twenty Blackbirds, a cafe in the Gowanus neighbourhood of Brooklyn that specialises in double-crusted, wholesome pies that I popped into during one of my rare Me-times. I’d heard about it, and about the two-sister team that courageously decided to move their tiny pie-baking business out of their apartment and into a proper bustling cafe. They have been selling out their pies faster than they could make them ever since.

I remember taking a step inside the cafe and getting cocooned by a gentle commingling of warm aromas. It smelt like home.

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New York City 2012: Bánh Mì Zòn – Wicked Vietnamese Sandwiches

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I’m in the midst of hammering out a proper article. I’m experiencing full-blown Hamster Complex (you know, the one where you want to destroy something you’ve created?), and should stop before I trash it in rage and regret it after. There are only so many words that I can beat out of my brain into something that – hopefully – doesn’t sound nauseatingly contrived considering the…genre…of material I’ve been forced to read and re-read this past week, as some of you may know. I am giving up on that for the moment and resuming my usual food-psychobabble.

What a relief. Urgh.

I’m continuing with my chain of sandwich posts, and have saved the best for last.

I had long since given up hope of finding the perfect Bánh Mì in Singapore. I may not have tried hard enough, but no matter. There’s no point anymore. Bánh Mì Zòn has got it. This small eatery in East Village NYC will send all other imitation Vietnamese sandwich stalls running back home, tails between their legs.

A Vietnamese friend, of unusually small appetite (it’s true isn’t it Linh?) had remarked that the sandwich at Bánh Mì Zòn is better than what she could find in Vietnam, and had thereafter proceeded to polish off the entire thing on her own. So if my unrestrained rambling has made everyone skeptics by now, that should add some credibility.

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This is a Bánh Mì (pronounced ‘bang-mee’ – for real), a Vietnamese-style sandwich. The Zon Sandwich ($6.50) has made me realise how my palate has been asleep all my life, and has never readied itself enough for so much sensation. Some part of me feels guilty for sharing this experience on such a public space, to be gloating about having eaten something that most of everyone else has not. I would apologise in advance, except that I truly feel smug about this. I hope you understand.

I know I said that Taïm‘s Falafel Sandwich is the epitome of an awesome sandwich, but I have to retract my words. I have gone back to that post and edited that line out. I am serious. This is the perfect sandwich. Does it not look like The Perfect Sandwich? What obscene filling-to-bread ratio is that?! Nine to one, or something.

Packed into the cavity of a warm, crackly footlong baguette is a dizzying mix of freshly sliced Vietnamese bologna and pork head cheese, a generous schmear of sweet pork pâté, fragrant pork floss, cool and crunchy shreds of vegetables just lightly pickled and tangy, and a chockful of shockingly green cilantro. It’s a riot of flavour and texture, an Adult-Only party in the mouth. The bread itself remains unrivaled, fluffy and crisp, yielding easily with each bite. And I never eat cilantro raw, in any amount, but to much of my bewilderment, the bed of cilantro worked. I ate them all. With mighty squirts of Sriracha sauce.

The second time I returned, I ordered the same footlong sandwich and demolished it. Heck, anyone can finish this on their own. This is a sarnie that will surprise you in more ways than one.

Bánh Mì Zòn

Address: 443 E.6th St. New York, NY 10009

Opening Hours: 

Tue-Sat: Noon-9pm

Sun: Noon-8pm. 

Closed Monday.

New York City 2012: Taïm – Best Falafel Sandwich

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The pair of degenerates featured in this picture of Taïm’s shopfront refused to step out of my camera frame. They also happen to be my accomplices – or, well, ‘friends’ if I must be so kind as to admit – for a falafel getaway in West Village. My friends clearly get treated to a healthy dose of my special blend of humour, and fortunately for them, my affection takes the form of sarcastic, deadpan remarks, with the occasional tongue-in-cheek comeback. I only give my friends the best.

Now, on to the point of this post: Falafel. Deep-fried rounds of ground chickpeas or fava beans of Middle Eastern origins. It’s hard to directly attribute any one country for this marvelous creation, so let’s just skip the historical commentary.

The last time I had falafel so good that I was convinced that I could give up meat was in Paris, at L’As du Fallafel (I do plan to write about my European foodscapades before the turn of the next millenia). The falafel sandwich I had was messy and wholesome. Skills in serviette management were crucial. The falafels themselves were amazing. Those were the best I had had in my life up until then. The operative words being ‘until then’, because I have found the best since then.

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These are the best falafels in New York, as voted by countless reliable food snobs, the NY Times, Serious Eats, and me. Not to promote Bobby Flay any further, but I also happened to watch how these chickpea fritters bowled him flat on his back in yet another staged Throwdown on the telly.

I run the risk of gushing, and no one likes digital diarrhoea, so I’ll keep this short.

The falafels are freshly fried, deliciously nutty and fluffy. If you order the Green Falafels, split them open and you’ll be stunned to see a vibrantly green core, bright and dewy with flecks of parsley, cilantro, and mint. I don’t have a picture. I spent only a second admiring them before I stuffed my face.

The Falafel Sandwich ($6.25) is Taïm’s ultimate crowd-pleaser from their extensive menu of other crowd-pleasers. The pitas (wholewheat or white) are unbelievably fresh, made in-house perhaps, warm and soft, yet reliable enough to support the weight of copious amounts of hummus, israeli salad, pickled cabbage, and creamy tahini. This sandwich is warm and cool, luxurious yet light, crunchy, smooth, and so darn tasty. Almost every possible component of a great sandwich is embodied in this one. I’m not ashamed to say that I ordered a second.

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What’s interesting is that Taïm’s falafels come in three flavours: Green, Harissa (with Tunisian spices), Red (with roasted peppers). Think of the Green as a classic falafel, the Harissa as fragrant one, and the Red as the sweet one. I had friends ordering the Mixed Falafel Platter ($12), which comes with all three types of falafel, israeli and tabouli salads, and sauces.

I had to skim through Taïm’s menu again for this post, and let’s just say that I’m beyond frustrated right now. If I wasn’t limited by stomach capacity and time back then, I’d have tried their babaganoush, their French Fries with Saffron Aioli (I know!), Fried Eggplant, all their salads and smoothies, and the falafels, and falafels, and more falafels.

I did get a bite of the Baklava ($3), but I wasn’t sure what I was comparing it against since I don’t think I’ve had good baklava, ever.

Everything is freshly made. You can taste it, smell it, see it. This outlet at West Village is small, a hole-in-the-wall. There’s another outlet at Nolita, and – if social media is on your side – there’s their food truck, cruising through NYC every day feeding its lucky, lucky people. Follow them on Twitter…

…while I unfollow them, to spare myself the agony of receiving updates on something I can’t have, three oceans away.

Taïm

Address: 222 Waverly Place, New York 10014

Phone: 212-691-1287

Hours: 11am-10pm Daily

Twitter: TaimMobile

New York City 2012: Wafels & Dinges – Belgian Waffles

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This honking yellow beauty was the stuff of my dreams ever since I watched an episode on the Food Network about the best food trucks in NYC. Just the idea of buying food from a food truck seemed abstract and magical, like getting sprinkled with fairy dust. I wanted to be sprinkled with fairy dust.

I saw the waffles again kicking Bobby Flay’s ass when he tried doing a surprise Throwdown on Thomas DeGeest, owner and founder of what was eventually to become NYC’s waffle salvation – Wafels & Dinges. To be precise, Bobby got nailed by a flying, golden slab of a liège wafel slathered in Spekuloos spread. That’s like a 30-hit maximum combo on Marvel Vs Street Fighter that he saw coming, but chose to feebly execute a Low-Block instead of doing a Retreating Dash for Samurai Hill. No prizes for guessing who won that round (then again we all know everything’s staged. You know that. Right?).

Then again, it seems that as long as W&D’s Big Ol’ Momma Truck continues serving its good citizens piping hot, fresh Belgium wafels for many more years to come, everyone remains a winner. Just…you know…don’t ever try to go up against it.

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There’s no waffling about this issue: the Liège Wafels from any of Wafel & Dinges wafel trucks are better than those in their country of origin, Belgium. I’ve had doughy, crispy, delicious waffles drizzled in melted chocolate when I was in Brussels years ago and I remember how devilishly good they were, so I have a basis of comparison, unlike my inadequacy with Porchetta.

The only way to hunt down this elusive wafel truck is if you’re following W&D on every possible social media newsfeed that they have. Even then, my attempts and wild proclamations at hunting it down were abject failures at best, the stars never having aligned themselves to have the Momma Truck anywhere in my vicinity. I promise I was checking Facebook and Twitter daily.

When I stumbled across one of their small kiosks at Union Square, I obviously got myself a Liege Wafel ($5), and level-ed it up to a Wafel of Massive Deliciousness (WMD) by adding $2 for the option of having as many toppings as I wanted. This is dangerous stuff. Giving people free reign over any number of additional toppings they can have is like giving a child a stick of dynamite. I chose the explosive combination of Spekuloos, banana slices, and whipped cream.

And I chanced upon another stand at Bryant Park, and had another Liège WMD with Nutella, Strawberries, and Bananas.

Yet this was still different. This was from a stand in a holiday market. I’d gotten my taste of W&D’s wafel, but the Momma Truck hadn’t made my wafel. I needed to buy my wafel from the Momma Truck.

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Then during one serendipitous day (the only day that I hadn’t checked any social media platform for the whereabouts of the Momma Truck), I found her. She was parked at the curb in SoHo, windows wide open and beckoning, as peppy yellow as The Magic School Bus – wafel version. I went ballistic. My friend went ballistic for me.

We shared a non-WMD, still a liège though, and stood to the side in the nipping cold to chomp away at a Spekuloos (a spread made from Spekuloos biscuits – spiced biscuits that taste like glorious gingerbread) wafel. Liège wafels are dense and burnished a golden-brown. They’re crispy and caramelised on the outside and chewy on the inside. My kind of wafels, and hard to find in Singapore too. W&D has the other sort as well, what they call their Brussels Wafel ($5), the light and fluffy sort that I didn’t bother trying. Liège is all I need in my life. Also, W&D’s savoury wafels are only available from the Momma truck. Think Bacon & Syrup, or Pulled Pork, or Chilli Con Carne. I wished I had the opportunity for those, but I didn’t.

DSC_0380It’s hard not to see this as a staple for anyone visiting the Big Apple. Who doesn’t want fairy dust? These wafels are mad good. They have ruined me for all other wafels. It hurts that they are currently half-way around the world from me.

The New Yorkers truly have the best food truck.

Wafels & Dinges

Website: http://www.wafelsanddinges.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/wafelsanddinges?fref=ts

Twitter: @waffletruck