One Dish with Daniel

Friends, colleagues and people I admire take me out for their favorite dish in New York City. I pay.

Buffet Wrecking 101 - Atlantic City




What is it called when you can’t find anyone to interview, and you feel like you are bugging people if you ask more than once?  Whatever that social disorder is, I have it.  If I could get into the psychology of it for a second, I’d say that it is because I know One Dish isn’t that big a deal. So, I’m going to try to stop getting bent out of shape about not getting posts up and just doing this when the spirit moves me, and nothing moves my spirit like a trip to Atlantic City!  (The fact that I have not written anything here for a month doesn’t stop me from maintaining my title as Segue King.)  Specifically, I like to go to buffets in Atlantic City.  

When I am on a bus home to New York at 6 am on a Monday morning, I look at the people around me and see shame.  Shame that they lost this month’s rent, shame that they cheated on their wives or husbands.  My shame is that I yelled at a buffet worker because she informed me that the soft-serve ice cream machine was broken.  We all have our crosses to bear.  Mine just happens to come with sprinkles.  

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The Secret Starbucks Menu: A List of Things Mixed With Other Things

This fascinating article from The Daily Meal, linked by Huffington Post, called The Ultimate Guide to Starbucks’ Secret Menu is consistent with the completely inane tripe HuffPo puts in their food column. 

In this “Ultimate” guide, we learn that The Zebra Mocha is a mocha with white and wait for it…regular mocha.  Amazing!  We also learn that you can order any drink “short”, which is basically like asking for a half a drink, but paying full price for it. Cool.   

The rest of the list should be called “The Ultimate Guide to Getting Diabetes While Only Consuming Liquids.”  Getting a Biscotti ground up in my Frappuccino? That shouldn’t be on a “Secret Menu”, it should be on an FDA Watch List. 

I was lucky enough to get my hands on the unedited version of the Secret Menu, and these are the 4 items The Daily Meal left off:

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Mini Post: This Is My New God Now

I have been extremely busy lately watching the Tour de France, which is like a 3 week Super Bowl for me and the rest of the spandex-clad cycling community. Henceforth, I haven’t had a lot of time to interview people for this site.  That is about to change.  I have three guests lined up this week, and a host more on the way.  

Another contributing factor to the dearth of posts is the fact that I have been on a serious health kick, which came to a crashing halt when I ran into the monstrosity you see above.  Until I lived in New York, I was never much of a donut guy (or doughtnut chap if you are fancy).  I grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch country, and there were always great donuts around. The holiday Fastnacht Day is a big deal in Allentown, and I may have been spoiled by the insane supply of great donuts at church picnics (I went to church!), little league games, and Fire Hall Carnivals. 

Generally, I like donuts simple.  Often, in New York, people will rave about some Elderberry, Blood Orange monstrosity that takes away from what a donut should be.  It should be cakey, it should have great texture (more like a muffin that cotton candy) and it should be cheap.  That is why I love Peter Pan Donuts on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint.  The confections are inexpensive, they come in simple flavors, and as I recently discovered, they are available with ICE CREAM IN THE MIDDLE! 

After refereeing a basketball game (it is a strange and wonderful existence I lead), my buddy Mark and I walked around Greenpoint scoping out the sets for Boardwalk Empire, and generally having as good a time as you can in 95 degree weather.  As if touched by the hand of some deity (church, remember?), I recalled my friend David telling me that Peter Pan does Donut Ice Cream Sandwiches.  We pretty much ran the 12 blocks up Manhattan Avenue to get them.

Expectations were high, but these motherfuckers delivered! Mark opted for the chocolate glazed with toasted coconut, and I went with straight chocolate. Both were served with simple vanilla ice cream.  The donuts aren’t flimsy so they hold their shape.  Everything about this was perfect, and this might be the most satisfying single item I have eaten in my time here.  Should I quit now? Should I kill myself?  Would you miss me?  Who would write about food after I died?  I am the only one that does this, right?  

Goodbye friends, I will miss you.  

Guest 5 - My Brother David and I Wonder If We Own Clothes Nice Enough for Eleven Madison Park

As you may remember, I started this thing after visiting my brother David Ralston in Portland.  In the 5 years he has been out West he has become one of the finest chefs I’ve ever seen work.  He has a deep understanding of flavor, an adventurous palate, and a simple joy of food that never seems to get lost in the abstract.  The meals I ate at his restaurant in Portland were some of the best I’ve ever had, but it was a simple Chicken and Vegetable dish at my mom’s house that really blew me away.  He drew so much complexity out of the simplest ingredients and left me feeling pretty underwhelmed by the “specialty” chicken at Marlowe and Sons we had eaten in Brooklyn earlier that day.  Quite frankly (What’s up, Stephen A?), he blew Marlowe away with a grocery store bird.  My kid brother can cook!

Now that you understand my guest a little bit, I’ll tell you how surprised I was he wanted to go to Eleven Madison Park for his last night in town.  (Full Disclosure: Eleven Madison used to be a client of mine at the tea company).  I know the food there is super fancy, and every photo I have seen of the interior looks intimidatingly stuffy.   I actually worried whether or not I owned any clothes nice enough.  After locating and pressing my dressiest Zubaz I felt at ease enough to give it a go. 

As we entered the cavernous art-deco space (ooh, this is like a Hardy Boys opening line) it is clear that we are not the target demographic for this place.  My brother was wearing his only “nice” shirt, and I was dressed in a style I can only describe as ‘Vampire Weekend on a Budget’.  So what is the target demo of Eleven Madison Park?  It is made up of the following groups:

-Steinbrenner Children
-Suspenders Importers/Exporters
-The Maloof Brother
-Michael Douglas in Wall Street + 60 pounds
-Retired NFL Players
-Very Tan Women
-People with Bejeweled Hands (both genders)

Despite looking like we raided the cedar chest of a disgraced Harvard professor, we were treated like gold by the staff.  One quick note about the staff…They were unbelievable.  I have never seen such a graceful ballet of service.  Every plate appeared a reappeared in seconds, and everyone was extremely kind when I asked questions.  

We decided to go with the 4 course tasting menu.  They only offer a tasting menu, but you get to choose your “theme” from an overly confusing grid.  Seriously, I was mildly baffled by it.  It required reading from top-to-bottom as opposed to left-to-right.  I almost ordered a “meal” of Strawberry, Cheese, Chocolate & Pastry before realizing this row was Desserts.  I come off pretty smart in that story! 
It is immediately evident that a 4-Course Meal is not even CLOSE to 4 courses.  Within moments of handing our menus back we were greeted by these guys:

I wish this wasn’t the first picture in this post.   These are (admittedly, very whimsical) goat cheese lollipops in a beet shell.  They were served with tiny little deep-fried goat cheese balls.  There is some discussion of the amount of wheatgrass they must waste in the presentation of this dish.  Thinking about piles of this stuff hitting the compost pile seems like a waste.  Maybe they could resell it to low-rent yoga studios and smoothie shops.  I hereby copyright this sad/scary business idea.  As this dish leaves we are hit with the next round of Small Bites before our meal actually starts.   Unlike the lollipops, we are absolutely blown away by these:

In the foreground is a Hamachi ceviche served on a rice cracker, and in the background is a clam served with a citrus gelee.  Both of the dishes were presented beautifully, and made for a nice gateway into the playfully complex meal we were about to eat.   I couldn’t get pictures of everything, sadly.  I felt like enough of a goon snapping these, but I hope I can fill in the blanks on the courses I didn’t get to shoot. 

I started my meal off with a quite possibly the most delicious thing I have ever eaten:

It is difficult to express how full and hearty this delicate looking plate was.  The Octopus was tender and meaty, and felt more substantial than any I can remember eating before.   It was served with small, hand carved potatoes (you could see the knife marks),  a chorizo “powder” that dusted the base of the plate, and some fresh grapefruit which brought out the freshness of the seafood and the spiciness of the Chorizo.  It was so complete and so beautiful; I just want everyone I know to try it.  This is how good food can be!

I moved on to a ricotta gnocchi, which were perfectly prepared, but took on a little too much of the olive flavor that accompanied them.   The plate was beautiful, though: 

The main course arrived, and I was surprised by how full I already was.  We had a similar experience the night before at Tinto, the legendary tapas restaurant in Philadelphia.  The small plates and the even pace snuck up on me.  I chose a pretty heavy entrée, pork loin served with a thick slab of pork belly.  The flavors were perfect, and the pork belly had a sold quarter inch of caramelized crispy skin, which erased any feelings of hitting the wall.  I just wanted to keep eating it.  Here it is:

From here, things get a little hazy.  We shared dessert, and Dave’s strawberry beat out my apple.  His was a strawberry sorbet served in a delicate little tube shape, and a whole bunch of complimentary flavors and textures.  My apple ice cream was great, and served with a curry spiced shortbread which was 90% delicious and 10% stomach turning.   I think that has more to do with my fullness, than it does with the preparation.  The secret weapon on my plate was the ½ inch diameter lemon balls that tasted just like Lemon Drop candies.  They brought out the tartness of the apple and were the best thing on either plate.   Sadly, I don’t have a picture of this course.  The restaurant was getting progressively darker, and I wasn’t willing to take multiple photo attempts.  “Sometimes the best memories are the ones in your MIND, man. “ –Jim Morrison (probably).

Next up was an insane coffee course.  We ordered the tableside coffee service which I had never heard of.  The server was excited we ordered it, and I can see why.  The coffee expert guy comes over and for the next 10 minutes puts on a little science experiment.  He runs water through a system of beakers and pots, then ads the coffee to the standing water, then has us blow on the bottom of an empty vessel until the coffee starts to displace the warm air.  It is crazy, and legitimately fun.   I took this very terrible picture of the process.  Feel free to dump this into Photoshop and clean it up if you so desire.  Then send it back to me.   Man, you are nice!

Keep in mind, at this point we have also consumed a nice bottle of Rose, and a few fancy cocktails.  So, when the Captain of the wait staff asked if we wanted to see the kitchen, we had no reason to assume that would involve more drinking, but it did.  A quick note on the kitchen:  It is big, and run so precisely it was amazing to see.  Each station had a chef wordlessly dismissing food that wasn’t up to par, and a team of men and women moving like clockwork to put out beautiful and well thought-out food.  As we take our spot behind the viewing table a pastry chef comes over and offers us a “modern take on a Manhattan”.  She starts ladling scoops of something into something else, and when she is done we have a little glass of liquid with a cherry in it and a crazy ball of what looks like insulation sitting on top.  We are instructed to crack the shell of the weird dollop and stir.  As the spoon hits the mixture it dissolves and turns into a whiskey Slurpee.  It is unquestionably the best mixed drink I have ever had, and is one of the only times I have seen true innovation in the kitchen used to enhance a dish, rather than complicate it. 

We are led from the kitchen to the Flatiron Lounge where we are treated to a complimentary bottle of cognac, while we wait for our check.  We sit for an hour and talk about the food, and how a meal like this can change your outlook.  To see fancy food done right, with a sense of joy and a deep respect for the ingredients is exciting.  It helps you to understand how much left there is to do.  

David and I hope to open a restaurant one day, and I am sure it won’t be anything like Eleven Madison Park.  Still, as we sipped form our glasses and gawked at the check (it was the most expensive meal of my life), I felt like we had found something new. There was skill and precision in everything we ate.  It is the kind of work that inspires you to do better.  

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Avenue

New York, NY 10010-3643


Mini Post: Madison Square Park – Street Food Bonanza

I am usually a little nonplussed by street food.  It just seems like an easy hook.  Also, one of my favorite things about eating is sitting!  Don’t worry Mr Softee, we will always be cool. 

Right now, in Madison Square Park (specifically, the corner of 24th and Madison), a bunch of the heavy hitters in New York Cuisine have set up stalls in what the park’s website calls Madison Square Eats.  Actually, on the website they call it ‘Mad. Sq. Eats’. Are they paying per letter for their website? If so, they need to renegotiate with GoDaddy.   There are stands (and long lines) for Asia Dog, ilili, Momofuku Milk Bar, and a host of others.  

I went by on a rainy Friday afternoon, just after buying new basketball shoes.  I hadn’t eaten all day, and I wanted something sub, sub, sub substantial.  (REM joke, not a good one).  I decided to go for the Pork Ribs Scottadito at Mario Batali’s Eataly with a side of Ceci Fritti (deep-fried chickpeas).   

I almost can’t overstate how good this meal was.  Look at it up there!  I was gesturing to strangers who were also eating the ribs and we were all having the same euphoric experience.  It was like we were seeing Phish do a 3rd encore.   Kidding, that would be terrible.  The ribs were lightly fried and the bones were barely even attached.  The fried chickpeas were so crispy and delicious; it made me wonder why they aren’t a bigger deal.  They are the Go-Betweens of side dishes, I guess. 

The food stalls will be up through June 3rd.  Go!  Call me when you do, I’ll come along! 

Steve Albini reviews Steve Albini’s Food Blog

I feel like I can safely say that I am in the perfect position to review the posts from this romantic little turd, because well, I am him.  Think about the name of my site alone turns my stomach, and then thinking bout me bringing these sorry concoctions to my wife in some “comical” Italian accent makes me physically wretch.  

Don’t even get me started on the food itself! I am cooking late 90’s comfort food like Braised Sweet Sausage with Cavatappi and Peas, in 2011!  You should just shoot me in the fucking head TODAY, so I don’t cook more shit you could have gotten at Babbo in 1998.  

I certainly think of myself as Batali-like in my execution, but I am definitely more of a ‘Giada DeLaurentis lite’.  Wait till it gets warm and my spring rolls and pasta-with-a-fucking-egg-on-top will transition to “fun summer salads” and ceviche.  

Directionless, check. Aimless, check. Pointless, fucking check.  I’ll stick to what I know best, working on the 20th anniversary reissue of Razorblade Suitcase.  
*This is a joke. I love Steve Albini. 

My favorite sushi spot in NYC.

I don’t know about you, but when I get the craving for sushi I ALWAYS head to the Duane Reade in Penn Station.  Look at that Sashimi (flown in from Tokyo, no doubt)!  It is especially good if you go at 9:30pm, right before the staff (*psst* not very friendly) throw it out.

My favorite sushi spot in NYC.

I don’t know about you, but when I get the craving for sushi I ALWAYS head to the Duane Reade in Penn Station. Look at that Sashimi (flown in from Tokyo, no doubt)! It is especially good if you go at 9:30pm, right before the staff (*psst* not very friendly) throw it out.

Guest 3 - Matthew Callan and the Guy From Seinfeld

Eating off a Mets logo.  Ouch.

This one is gonna be tough. I think it was Moby Dick where a whale jumped into a boat, then the boat sank, and the captain had to go live with a family of whales at the bottom of the sea. Is that right? Regardless, that is how it was for me going to CitiField. In this scenario, I was the captain, the stadium is the sea, and the whale is….baseball(?).  In short, I do not like the Mets and I certainly never thought I’d end up at CtitField without my beloved Phillies in town.   

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