Adventures of a Gastronome in Training (GIT)

One amateur foodie's quest for culinary enlightenment. Musings on cooking, dining, food products, basically all things edible are fair game.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Clam and Cod Quest

Manhattan is not the place to find a quality fried clam hut. The fried clams in NYC tend to be strips, not bellies, and the freshness is lacking. I also am yet to come across standout fish and chips here, although I think this is an easier quest. Anyhow, we took advantage of our 2nd annual trip to Nantucket to look for these two dishes along the way. We were not looking for a four star experience. We wanted crusty, New England servers working in slightly over-priced tourist friendly restaurants that still managed to turn out fresh, simple, fried coastal favorites.

Mainly because I am not down with those small planes, we drove to Hyannis and took the ferry over. This ended up being a blessing in disguise because the best clam roll and fish and chips of the trip were found a stones throw from the ferry dock at the Black Cat Tavern. However, I am getting ahead of myself…

Arno's in Nantucket

We tried two other restaurants in Nantucket for their versions of the clam roll and fish and chips. The first was at Arno’s on Main Street. Here, we had the most expensive and disappointing renditions of the trip. The clams were clearly tired and not nearly as fresh as the others. The cod was hardly flavorful and even mealy. The batter ended up soggy and very thin. Very disappointing. I felt like a tourist who had been taken.

The Tavern in Nantucket

Our next try on Nantucket was at the Tavern on the Straight Wharf. I feared that I had stepped again into tourist food hell. However, this was an improvement, but still not up to Black Cat standards. Here the clams were fresher and more flavorful. They stopped short of spewing tasty clam juice, but were not a bad dish. The fish and chips were much better seasoned with a thicker batter. The cod was flaky and firm. For Nantucket, this was the nest of our very narrow survey.

Black Cat Tavern

The best and brightest of our samplings was, as I mentioned, at the Black Cat Tavern in Hyannis. This place is decked out in the interior with portraits of cats dressed up as historical figures such as Henry the Eighth and the Earl of Sandwich. We sat on the patio and enjoyed the harbor views. Here the clams were bursting with flavor, juices, slime, and everything else Marty was looking for in a fried clam. We ended up eating here twice both on our trip out and back. I was knocked out by their fish and chips. They gave me a thick hunk of cod that tasted fresh and was wrapped in a crispy well-done batter. I didn’t even need to pick up the salt shaker. The texture was firm and flaky, and there was hardly a hint of grease.

As I said, this was a very narrow survey. I think we’ll try to cover more ground next year in Nantucket, but I think we’ve found our place in Hyannis.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Grand Sichuan International

Marty and I hit Grand Sichuan International in midtown for the first time this weekend. I had read countless affirmations for this place on Egullet for their spicy, authentic Chinese fixings. We were duly (or dually) impressed. There are a few outlets of Grand Sichuan around Manhattan. However, the one on 9th Avenue in midtown is known to be the best executed and most consistent. The restaurant has the look of a classic Chinese eatery. There’s not much for ambiance. Read: clean enough and meets one’s basic restaurant needs. The patrons in the nearly full restaurant were over half Asian, usually a good sign.

We started with the wonton soup ($1.50) and dan dan noodles with chili sauce ($3.50). Wonton soup is not why you come here, but it is a pleasant rendition. The dan dan noodles, however, were a knockout. It’s a very simple dish, noodles sitting in chili oil with delicious dried chewy little bits of pork scattered on the top. The noodle is a like a thinner udon, but thick enough to give a satisfying chew. This dish is spicy. Our noses were red and running. Our lips were tingling. My water glass empty.

For entrees, we had the fresh killed Kung Bao chicken (~$13.00) and pea shoots (~$7.50). There is an explanation of the importance of fresh killed chicken in Chinese cooking outlined in the menu. There's something about the description "fresh killed" that is a bit unsettling. A little too vivid I guess. I pictured dozens of chickens hanging out behind the restaurant waiting for the man in the black mask to show. Anyhow, my stomach growled, and my mind was back on the food. The menu goes on to say that due to the difference in taste, it said you rarely see Chinese people ordering chicken dishes at American Chinese restaurants. I do have to say, the chicken had a smoother texture (not stringy) and almost rich flavor. The dish itself was out of the park. I’ve never had Kung Bao (or Pao as I usually see it) that was so good! Again, this dish is spicy, keep your water and napkin handy, and watch out for the dried chilis. The pea shoots came wilted with slices of garlic. They had almost a buttery flavor, and were a refreshing break from the other spicy food.

Grand Sichuan International has a huge menu. I think the best way to experience this place would be to come with a group of friends and order like crazy. Any takers?

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Links I'm Lovin'

This is a short list of sites that I’m loving right now…

Egullet – This is a food forum/discussion board similar to chowhound, but my preference between the two. I have not had the chance to explore much beyond the New York forum, so I’ll let you take your chances there. The New York board is filled with regulars who appear to have varying levels of knowledge. Their clear leader is “Fat Guy.” His lengthy posts, which are usually informative, result in a whole thread of gushing responses from his many admirers. There are so many threads that there are of course, some winners and some losers. The recent coverage of the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party was extensive (you can also check out pics of Fat Guy there), lots of pictures, reviews, and advice. There are also countless restaurant threads often sparked by the New York Times weekly reviews.

Andrea Strong – Strong has written for a variety of publications, all of her work is posted on the site. I enjoy the site for her weekly “Strong Buzz.” The SB reports the word on the street for the New York restaurant scene. She tends to be a bit swept away by the “it” scenes at times. However, I do enjoy the reviews and news that comprise the majority of the weekly piece.

WalkerNewYork: Eats – This is one New Yorker’s blog on all things food (sound familiar). She is another amateur food lover out to document her experience. Her honest style is refreshing (she talks about having oatmeal for dinner). She sounds like a more seasoned chef than I, but not too much so. Mostly, I like this blog, because it reminds me of me…maybe I should move on.

Leite’s Culinaria – The site started as an online portfolio for David Leite to display his various writings. It has turned into one of my favorite recipe sites. They have a staff of volunteer testers (including myself), who try out recipes and report back. The recipes on the site with “taster’s choice” have been singled out as the best of the lot. The food writing is also interesting. There is a funny article about being a “Pan Snob” and tale of his love affair with a Viking stove.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004


Last weekend Marty and I joined two friends to try Landmarc in TriBeCa. There has been considerable buzz about the place for several months (see Andrea Strong, EGullet, Amanda Hesser's NYT review.) The reviews handed out high praise of the roasted marrow bones with onion marmalade and grilled country bread, crispy sweetbreads with horseradish and green beans , foie gras terrine with pickled red onions, sautéed calf's liver with peas, scallions and caramelized onion whipped potatoes, and steak frites. Clearly, too many excellent choices…

Landmarc was more casual than I anticipated, although patron’s dress ranged from shorts to sport coats. We sat downstairs, so I can’t comment on the second floor. The main floor is anchored with a small bar in the back that overlooks the flame flickering grill. The exposed brick walls, mild lighting, and simple metallic artwork give it a softened industrial look.

Countless reviews have mentioned that they are looking to provide a neighborhood spot. Landmarc achieves this through the comfortable atmosphere, the lack of reservations for parties of 6 or more, the varied menu, and the affordable wine prices.

Initially, my eyes were bigger than my stomach. I wanted, arguably, the two heaviest items on the menu, roasted marrow bones ($12) and sautéed calf's liver ($21). (Marty rolled his eyes because this is not an uncommon mistake for me) Luckily, it took some time for our wine to come (a very tasty Bordeaux at an extremely low markup). I stayed with the roasted marrow bones and went with the grilled quail sautéed mushrooms, bacon and cherry tomatoes ($22). Marrow was essentially new to me. It tastes like the fat from the edge of a rib roast, but with a much smoother, strangely delicate texture. I loved it. I first piled my grilled bread with only marrow. Later bites included the delicious onion marmalade and sea salt. Everyone tried it and enjoyed. Although, Marty said he had enjoyed marrow more elsewhere. Marty had the cucumber soup special and liked it, but wanted more flavor. I tried a spoonful of the French onion soup ($7) and was impressed. A gooey glob of gruyere with a rich beef broth that wasn’t too salty for a change. By the time I got to the grilled quail, I knew I had ate too much marrow. I forced myself to down the dish, which was excellent. The flavors are still dancing in my mouth. Next time, I will order this on a much emptier stomach. Marty got the rib eye with the shallot bordelaise ($28), and was pleased with his choice.

Far too full for dessert, we all passed. By the time I got home, I knew I had eaten way too much. The marrow, the presumed culprit, did not sit well. In fact, it did not sit at all (need I say more). Unless you have a huge appetite or stomach of steel, I would recommend sharing the roasted marrow bones with several people.

Overall, I can’t wait to head back to my new neighborhood spot…

Monday, June 14, 2004

Class, please open your books to page one...

After seven years of designing sewers, sewage treatment plants, and developing a 50-year plan for metro-Atlanta's sewage, I've decided to flush my consulting days, well, down the toilet. Not to say those days were wasted, I just knew I had to clean up my act. I know, I know, I could go on like this. My point is, for me, engineering has largely run its course. (At least until the bill collectors come, then it's back to calculator and stinky site visits) Now, however, I want to focus my energy on something that truly grabs my imagination…food.

I come from a long line of people who cook out of necessity and happily devour whatever is placed before them. In my parents home, ramps are sloping floors and soft peaks fill the foothills of the Rockies***. Not to mention, my maiden name is Jennie Craig. Seriously. Based on my loving, but decidedly culinary deprived, upbringing, I basically had to start at square one, with one exception. My family will try and 99.9% of the time eat anything.

At this point, I have a palate that has learned much over the years, but still has so much more to experience. I constantly read everything I can get my hands on; magazines, cookbooks, newspaper columns, blogs, and online discussion boards. My flair for research has led us down some wonderful finds everywhere from Acworth, Georgia to Paris. But, I know I have so much more to learn. Truly, I am a gastronome in training, and this is my journey…

***Ramps, by the way, are wild leeks that are like a cross between onions and garlic. Soft peaks are a formed when you beat eggs for, say, a merigue

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Jennie/Female. Lives in United States/Jennie Auster/New York, speaks English. Eye color is blue.