Tuesday, February 2, 2016

New York Christmas Trip 2015: Please Don't Tell

I've already shared with you our favorite East Village spots from my Christmas trip to NYC, but there's (somewhat ironically) a bit more to tell when it comes to the place I was most excited to visit: Please Don't Tell.

I've been obsessed with Please Don't Tell ever since I first heard about it years ago. I mean, it's supposed to be one of New York's best cocktail bars and, on top of that, its entrance is hidden behind a panel in a phone booth in a divey hot dog joint. What's not to love?

I'd been to New York a few times since my obsession started, but had never been able to make a visit to PDT work since getting in is a significant time commitment (more on that shortly). My work-around was to hire a bartender who worked with PDT for our wedding, but I knew this trip was finally the time to make my PDT dreams come true. 

On our first full night in NYC, Doug and I made our way to Crif Dogs, said divey hot dog joint. I managed to play it pretty cool when using the phone booth ("Doug, it's ringing!! Take a picture, take a picture!!") and got our name on the waitlist. This was beyond exciting to me even though it was already 10pm and the wait time was quoted at 2.5-3 hours. I prematurely posted this on Instagram:

Bad move, self. When we still hadn't received a call three hours later ("Doug, do you think I gave her the wrong number??"), we headed back to the phone booth to see what was up. We were informed that the bartender wasn't seating anyone else that night, but the hostess did give us specific instructions about how to make a reservation so we wouldn't have to sweat it out again with the rest of the waitlist plebeians. The Crif Dogs hot dog and tator tots we ordered helped numb my disappointment slightly, but did nothing to satiate my growing thirst for a PDT cocktail.

The next day, right at 3pm, Doug and I each began calling PDT non-stop, as instructed. Actually, the hostess recommended that we gather a large group of friends to help us call, but that seemed excessive. We called a combined 75 times before finally we got through and made our reservations. We were in!

That night, at 11pm on the dot, we were led through the secret panel of the phone booth and into PDT.

It was magical. We were seated at the end of the bar which was perfect as it would give us direct access to the bartender.

We started things off with two drinks from the menu. Doug had the Bacon-Infused Old Fashioned with bacon-infused bourbon, maple syrup, Angostura bitters, and an orange twist and I got the Cranberry Cobbler with gin, sherry, cranberry simple syrup, lemon, and macerated cranberries. Doug's was pretty amazing but I felt a little meh about mine. This was my own fault though because cobblers are 90% crushed ice and they always make me feel meh.

For my second drink, I decided it was time to break out the big guns... aka, let the bartender do his thing and create something on the fly. It was my favorite thing to do at Drink when I lived in Boston, and it doesn't usually let me down at Portland craft cocktail spots either.

"I like drinks with gin that are floral and citrus-y," I said. This was going to be so much better than my cobbler, I just knew it. It was, in fact, probably going to be one of the best cocktails I had ever had.

So imagine my horror as I watched the bartender pour gin, St. Germain, and lemon juice into a shaker, give it a whirl, and place it in front of me.

Gin. St. Germain. Lemon Juice. That's it.

It took a moment to set in. I had waited years to get the most literal, basic interpretation of my request at one of the best cocktail bars in the country? Something that anyone could make themselves and frankly was a little heavy-handed on the St. Germain? Nope, nope.

That's when I started to tear up a little and Doug gave me this look like "are you really having a breakdown because you don't like your cocktail?", which was fair enough.

I eventually ended up asking the bartender to make me something a little more complex because I just couldn't let that be the last drink I had at PDT. He did make me something better... but the experience was already sullied.

A month after the incident, I'm slowly coming to terms with it. Maybe I shouldn't have had such crazy high expectations. Maybe I shouldn't have tried to go off-menu. Maybe the bartender was just trying to give me exactly what I was asking for (but um, an Aviation also fits that description and is way more interesting...).

In the end, here's my advice: save yourself some heartbreak and a million phone calls and just go to Booker & Dax, Death and Co., or any other great cocktail bar in New York. And maybe at least visit PDT to use the phone and watch the hostess swing open the secret panel. Cuz it is pretty cool.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Portland Cafe/Xurreria: 180

What: 180
Where: 2218 NE Broadway St.
When: 8am-4pm
Honeys Heart: All the churros! 

Doug and I ate lots of delicious savory dishes during our trip to Spain a few years ago and with all those tapas to try, we didn't save much room for sweets. Our sampling was limited to nun cookies in Granada, marizpan in Toledo, and – the winner by far – churros with drinking chocolate from a small coffee shop in Barcelona.

All about those churros:

So, when we heard that Ataula's Jose Chesa and Cristina Baez were opening a xurreria next to their highly anticipated paella restaurant, Chesa, I was pretty darn excited.

Last night, we got a sneak peek of 180 and let's just say you should be pretty darn excited too.

Here's what's on the menu:

Xurros (aka Churros)
Made to order, these traditional xurros are fried at about 180°C (hence the shop's name). Order 3 for $3.75, 6 for $5.75, or 12 for $10.75 (go for a dozen- it's the fiscally-responsible choice).

Xurros Bañados
Xurros Bañados are traditional xurros served with a coating of xocolata and finished with Jacobsen’s salt. Guys, these are SO good.

Housemade Dipping Sauces
The $4 cup of drinking chocolate is obviously the way to go, but the housemade sauces are also really tasty. Choose from caramel/peanut butter, marshmallow cream, and a special seasonal sauce. At the tasting, the seasonal sauce was lemon curd and it was amazing.

Filled xurros can be stuffed with traditional crema catalana, dulce de leche, or housemade crema de xocolata.

I'm so bummed we didn't try these when we were in Barcelona- but these are another traditional Catalan pastry that are rolled in sugar and cinnamon, filled with crema catalana, and look similar to a croissant. We didn't get to try any of these but I'll fix that soon.

The shop will also offer a selection of coffee drinks including Spanish classics like Cafe Bombón (espresso with sweetened condensed milk) and Cortado (espresso cut with a little warm milk). Coffee is also served with a variety of milk options including a locally-produced hazelnut milk (which I learned is much more sustainable than almond milk.)

180 officially opens tomorrow (Friday, Jan 29) and they're giving away free churros from 8am-4pm while supplies last. See you there!

Friday, January 22, 2016

New York Christmas Trip 2015: East Village Bars & Restaurants

Doug and I hosted both sets of parents for Thanksgiving this year so we felt somewhat justified in our decision to spend Christmas just the two of us in New York City.

I've been to the Big Apple quite a few times thanks to my two years in Boston but Doug had never been aside from a manic 7-hour layover we had on our way back from Spain. (Note: sobbing into your pizza at an LIRR station because you might miss your plane home, and you drank too much at Brooklyn Brewery, and you're scared is not the best way to introduce your husband to NYC).

Per usual, Doug was an excellent trip planner and found an amazing Airbnb for us in the East Village for our 6-day stay. Of course, we hit up the touristy stuff while we were there, but for the most part, we spent a good deal of time in this new-to-us neighborhood. It turned out to be the perfect central spot as most of the restaurants and bars on our list were within walking distance. Here's an overview of our favorite East Village spots (in order of most favorite to only sort-of-favorite-y):

Big Gay Ice Cream

I feel a little silly saying that soft serve ice cream was the best thing I ate in New York... but Big Gay Ice Cream's soft serve was the best thing I ate in New York. Doug and I split the Salty Pimp- vanilla ice cream with dulce de leche, sea salt, and chocolate dip. It is the perfect combination of creamy, sweet, and salty. And they put dulce de leche in the cone too so you don't even have to be sad when you get past the chocolate dip. Genius.

Miracle on Ninth Street
Miracle on Ninth Street is a Christmas bar pop-up and you know I loved it because A) I'm a sucker for holiday-themed drinks and B) I'm definitely still on board the pop-up train (#basicfoodiebitch).

Housed in a bar usually called Mace, Miracle on Ninth Street was seriously the definition of holiday cheer. There were wall-to-wall decorations, fun and festive cocktails, and a ton of people having a great time. I loved my Candy Cane Fizz, but it was Doug's Redneck Flip with bourbon, applejack, Budweiser-marshmallow syrup, beef jerky bitters, and egg that really stole the show.

Can some Portland bar please steal this idea next year?

Booker & Dax
Our bartender at Booker & Dax was the one who told us about Miracle on Ninth Street, but this bar gets points even without that excellent tip thanks to its delicious drinks. It's part of the Momofuku empire (I liked it better than the Noodle Bar or Milk Bar), and focuses on making cocktails using new techniques and technologies... hence the existence of the hot pokers we noticed behind the bar. They're used to create cocktails with caramelized flavors and heady vapors.

I really enjoyed Booker & Dax's take on a bees knees- a Bee Sneeze made with milk-washed gin, honey, lemon and cracked pepper. Doug predictably chose the Full Metal Jacket made with charcoal, mezcal, clarified lime, and a black pepper tincture.

Russ & Daughters

We thought we were being pretty smart scheduling our breakfast at this Jewish specialty store for Christmas day- but turns out the rest of the neighborhood had the same idea and we ended up waiting a good 45 minutes for our number to be called. Doug and I both opted for a bagel (not toasted- that's what tourists do and it's an insult to the freshness of the bagel) with cream cheese and fish. I chose the Gaspe Nova Smoked Salmon and Doug tried the much saltier Belly Lox. We agreed that our bagels were a very tasty representation of a New York classic.

Unfortunately, New York's beer scene was way more meh than we were hoping for, but we did really like the selection at this funky little beer bar. Doug was especially happy to see that they had Other Half Brewing's All Green Everything triple IPA on tap.

McSorley's Old Ale House

At first I refused to go to this bar even though it's the oldest Irish tavern in NYC because they did not start serving women until they were legally obligated to in 1970 (um, what??), but Doug's friend Caroline convinced me it was worth a stop.

They only serve two types of beer here: light and dark, and you get two mugs when you order because they're pouring so fast, your single mug is nowhere near full.

Momofuku Noodle Bar
Momofuku's ramen is legendary so there was no way Doug and I were going to miss it. I went with a ramen special and Doug had the Momofuku Ramen with pork belly, pork shoulder, and poached egg.

We also shared an order of the Chicken Meatball Buns.

And it was all good... just nothing transcendent. Thanks, Portland, for giving us such high food standards that we can't even be amazed by Momofuku.

Momofuku Milk Bar
I have been obsessed with Momofuku Milk Bar since I had their cake truffles at Feast three years ago, so this was another place that I was not going to leave New York without visiting. Doug and I split a 3-pack of the Bday Truffles and a slice of Crack Pie.

They were both really good (just VERY sweet), but the packaging was kind of a turnoff for me since it made them seem more mass-produced and less special than I wanted to think they were.

Katz's Delicatessen

Doug as very adamant that we check out Katz's pastrami sandwich so we made it our Christmas dinner. We split a sandwich because they're huge and we both came away feeling very full. Doug felt slightly underwhelmed and said he'd probably try the rueben next time instead, but I thought the pastrami and ordering experience (it's a doozy!) was at least worth a visit.

And, of course, I need to tell you all about our visit(s) to PDT... but I'll save that for next time.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Portland Restuarant: Mama San Soul Shack

What: Mama San Soul Shack
Where: 8037 N Lombard St
Honeys Heart: Pork Meatball Banh Mi 

Last time we talked restaurants in my hood, I gave a less-than-steller review of Swift & Union (I still stand by my advice to go with a burger and beer and call it good). Even though they opened around the same time, unlike Swift & Union, Mama San Soul Shack got much less fanfare ahead of its opening (aside from some very cryptic posts on the St. Johns FB page), but it did get a great review by The Oregonian back in November, so I guess you could say good things come to those who wait (for publicity).

I love Ben Waterhouse's opening paragraph from that piece because I think it perfectly sums up what's going on at Mama San and in St. Johns in general:

If any residents of St. Johns remain unconvinced that the neighborhood's days as an isolated throwback full of unironic dive bars and typewriter repair shops are over, they need look no further than Mama San Soul Shack, a Vietnamese-Japanese-Southern-Mexican fusion joint opened in a former doughnut shop in September by former employees of Tasty N Alder and Trifecta. It's the sort of place that makes Los Angeles food writers drool and neighborhood preservationists lose sleep. It's also a pretty excellent place for lunch.

A great summary and I have to agree with Ben- Mama San is an excellent place for lunch, and dinner too for that matter.

I first tried Mama San when Anna and I stopped in to grab lunch after running a few errands. We decided to split a Banh Mi ($10) and the Classic Mac and Cheese ($5).

My favorite banh mi in the city is the pork meatball banh mi at Lela's Bistro, which is the polar opposite of Mama San's. Lela's is very simple with small, broth-steamed meatballs and crisp carrots, cucumbers, and cilantro. Mama San really packs it on with huge pork meatballs, a liberally-grilled baguette (which was my favorite part), and tons of pickled veggies, sriracha mayo, and bonito flakes. And really, I love them both. Sometimes you're looking for big, bold flavors (like at Mama San) and sometimes you want something less complicated. And sometimes you don't want to drive across the St. Johns Bridge for your banh mi which is where Mama San's version definitely has the upper hand...

Plus, Mama San's banh mi is big enough to share for lunch- especially if you're supplementing it with mac and cheese.

The mac is appropriately cheesy and delicious, but it is pretty basic. There's also a curry option which I think could make things a bit more exciting.

Following that initial trip with Anna, Doug and I have gotten take-out from Mama San's a few times, but we really do need to go back and eat there so we can try some of their Purple, Green, or Pink Drinks which are made with house-squeezed juices and apparently made even better with a splash or two of booze. We also need to try their various bowls and I know Doug wouldn't say no to an order of their chicken wings. See you soon, Mama!