Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Honey Cookies

My girlfriend made these really good cookies tonight. She said they were called honey cookies. They were the kind of cookies that you roll out and cut into shapes. We only have one cookie cutter in our apartment so all of the cookies were shaped like an apple. They reminded me of some cookies that my mom's friend made when I was pretty young. Sometimes she would come over and I would make the cookies with her. My mom's friend had these alphabet shaped cookie cutters that she used to make the cookies. Either that or maybe my mom had the alphabet shaped cookie cutters and my mom's friend just used them when she came over. My girlfriend made her cookies with honey and brown sugar, but I'm pretty sure that my mom's friend used molasses and normal sugar. The main similarities are that the cookies are both very crispy on the edge and a little chewy in the middle and also that they both have spices like cinnamon and nutmeg in them. The other similarity is that they both have a little flour left on the edge from when they were rolled out and cut up.

Honey Cookies: A
Cookies From 20 Years Ago: A

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Cracker Trax

The other day a friend of mine came over with snack that he had recently purchased. It was a bag of the newly introduced Cheetos Brand Cracker Trax. The outside of the package features a lip licking Chester Cheetah using a magnifying glass to examine a pile of paw shaped crackers. It also features a green circle with a check mark in it as well as the words "Smart Choices Made Easy". Before opening the bag up I already had my doubts. I suspected that Cracker Trax might resemble the Xtra Cheddar variety of Pepperidge Farm's Flavor Blasted Goldfish, a snack that I do not like. I opened the bag and tried a cracker. I frowned. I tried a couple more. They tasted like crackers that had been removed from a bag of snack mix and shaken up with a package of Kraft Easy Mac powder. They weren't outright awful, just wildly unappealing. Why anyone at the Cheetos company would go to the effort of developing and releasing these is beyond me. If they were sitting in a bowl in front of me I'm sure I would eat them, but Cracker Trax are the kind of snack that no one asked for and no one is satisfied by. Still they do contain such ingredients as Distilled Monoglyceride, Monosodium Glutimate, Sodium Phosphate, Ammonium Bicarbonate, Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate, and Potassium Sorbate, so they are a smart choice made easy.

Cheetos Brand Cracker Trax: D

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mexican Pepsi

As I was making the fairly long walk to my bank the other day something on the ground caught my attention. The something in question was a scratched up metal bottle cap with the Pepsi logo on it. I recognized it as a cap belonging to a glass bottle of Mexican Pepsi. I stopped in my tracks. I love glass bottles of Mexican Pepsi and I took this cap as evidence that they were for sale somewhere nearby. I looked up and down the block for a likely suspect. There was not Mexican bodega in sight. I frowned. Perhaps this cap came from somewhere far away. Perhaps it was thrown out of a car. I resumed walking and resigned myself to disappointment.

No sooner had I accepted that there would be no Mexican Pepsi in my near future than I crossed the street and noticed, to my right, a Mexican bodega. As soon as I saw it I knew that they would have what I wanted. I went in, walked back to the drink section, and found a refrigerated case full of glass bottled drinks. In addition to Pepsi they had several other kinds of sodas to choose from, including Coke, Sidral Mundet (a sparkling apple juice soda of which I am also a fan), and Jarritos. Despite the fairly wide selection I knew it was Pepsi that I was after. I purchased two bottles and exited the store.

I would have to wait to drink my bottles of Pepsi because they require a bottle opener to open and I did not have one on me. I completed my banking and returned home. I opened up a bottle and drank it as I wrote my post about the slice of pizza Focaccina Pizzeria & Espresso Bar. I thought to myself, as I took a break from writing my pizza post, that everything about glass bottled Mexican Pepsi is better than its American counterpart. More important than the aesthetic, which might be the first thing one noticed about it, is the taste. It's slightly less carbonated than American Pepsi, which results in a mellower feel as you drink it. The flavor itself is more complex -- almost spiced tasting -- and less syrupy than American Pepsi. Finally, it does not have a lingering plastic or metal aftertaste. One could say all of these things about glass bottled Mexican Coke, which I also also appreciate, but I just don't like the flavor quite as much.

It will cost you $1.25 for a 355ml bottle, but I think it's worth that and more for such a great tasting soda.

Mexican Glass Bottled Pepsi: A+

Friday, March 28, 2008


What if, I have often asked myself, the flavors of a zesty taco and chipotle ranch dressing collided? Well, the other night I got the chance to find out. I had just eaten some Thai food with my girlfriend and a friend of mine, but I was still hungry. Before getting on the subway to head home, I suggested that we stop in a corner store to see if they had any Doritos. We entered the establishment and made our way to the chip section. My eyes passed over the traditional Doritos varieties and were drawn to Doritos COLLISIONS. The idea behind this new product is simple. The Doritos company puts it this way: "With 2 BOLD flavors in 1 bag, you control the ultimate DORITOS flavor combination." They go on to ask, "What COLLISIONS combo will you unleash?" What COLLISIONS combo indeed! Luck would have it that the two colliding flavors available were Zesty Taco and Chipotle Ranch! I promptly purchased the bag for 99 cents.

I opened up the bag an selected a chip that looked more likely to be Zesty Taco flavored. I ate the chip. It tasted exactly like a taco if all the ingredients of a taco had been freeze dried, ground into a powder, mixed with monosodium glutamate, and applied to a corn chip. Despite the uncanny nature of the taco flavor I enjoyed the chip. My girlfriend and other friend also tried a Zesty Taco chip and agreed that the flavor of an actual zesty taco was harnessed. I next tried a Chipotle Ranch chip. This one tasted very much like a normal Doritos Cooler Ranch chip to me. I took a look at the ingredient list and found no mention of chipotle peppers. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Doritos produced too many Cooler Ranch chips recently and had to find an outlet for them. Still, I do like Doritos Cooler Ranch flavor chips well enough. I had no trouble eating the majority of the bag of chips, of both flavors, while waiting for the train.

Zesty Taco chips: B
"Chipotle" Ranch chips: B-

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Focaccina Pizzeria & Espresso Bar

There's a pizza shop around the corner from me that, before today, I had never tried. It's called Focaccina Pizzeria & Espresso Bar. For some reason it is designed like it is from the future. Outside it has a big tinted blue picture of Times Square. On top of the picture of Times Square, seemingly floating above it, haloed in white light, is a very flat pepperoni pizza with very evenly spaced pepperoni. Inside the restaurant everything is bright white or orange, including some uncomfortable looking futuristic stools.

I had noticed the place a few times before, but it is in the opposite direction of my normal walk to the subway and as a result I usually don't think to go there. Today however I was at home and hungry and I remembered the place. I decided to give it a shot. I walked over and, upon entering, noticed that there was no pizza by the slice on display. I approached the woman at the counter and asked if they had pizza by the slice. She said that yes they did and it was two dollars for a plain slice. I said that a plain slice sounded fine and I handed over my money. She told me to take a seat because it would be just a minute.

I took a seat and she disappeared into the back. A few moments later she returned with another employee who frowned at the oven for a second before going outside. This second employee soon returned with a third employee, both of whom disappeared into the back. The woman at the counter smiled at me and gave me a gesture that indicated it would be just one minute.

A couple minutes later the second and third employee came back. I didn't see what they did, but a minute after that the woman called me over and handed me my pizza. One look at the slice was enough to cause concern. I took the it over to the condiment counter to doctor it up. I covered the much too white cheese with oregano, parmesan, and pepper flakes. I left the store to walk back home and eat my slice.

Once outside I took a bite and with that bite I realized that one should never say never. I thought I had already eaten the worst slice of pizza in New York at a place called Café Amore. It was, to be sure, a close race, but I am convinced that this slice from Focaccino was, in fact, worse. There was nothing right with the pizza from Café Amore, but it wasn't nearly as downright sickening. Additionally, in contrast to the enigmatic origins of my slice today, at least I could see where the pizza from Café Amore had been sitting for hours and hours.

The slice from Focaccino seemed as though it had been languishing in a college dorm room refrigerator for a week before being warmed over in a microwave allowed to cool and then warmed over again. The sauce had permeated the crust to the extent that there was no freestanding sauce at all. The crust was gummy all the way through until you got to the limp cardboard-like bottom. The cheese was below school cafeteria caliber and extremely greasy. I didn't get through more than a third of the slice before I was compelled the throw it away

All in all a revolting experience.

Their website proclaims that they make "brick over pizza for the new century". I'm not sure why a new century would require a different type of brick oven pizza, but, if it does, I would argue for at least some of the elements of the previous century's brick oven pizza to be incorporated.

Plain Slice from Focaccina Pizzeria & Espresso Bar: F--

Friday, December 07, 2007

Diner is Served

I was in Los Angeles recently and, despite the fact that there are, no doubt, thousands of restaurants in that fair city I ate mostly at the same four restaurants. The establishments in question are Swingers of Hollywood, Swingers of Santa Monica, Brite Spot, and Fred 62. If you are familiar with Los Angeles eateries you may notice that these places, in one main respect -- namely that they are all slightly upscale diners -- are very similar. Nevertheless, as I will describe below, I found substantial differences between them.

My culinary research started the night I flew in with Swingers of Hollywood. I had been there, as well as the Swingers of Santa Monica, a few times on a previous visit. What I really wanted was to go to the one in Santa Monica, but it was too far away and so I settled for the Hollywood version. I was considering ordering the fried egg sandwich, which, on the previous visit, I had found to be very good. At this moment my dining companion, someone whose cookies I had once stolen, told me that the sandwich had been altered since I last had it. In the past it had been served on a toasted bagel, whereas now it was served on normal toasted bread. I discarded the idea of trying this new incarnation of an old favorite. I searched the rest of the menu and came upon the vegetarian burger. A few moments later the waitress arrived. I ordered the vegetarian burger while my companion ordered a brownie sundae. As the waitress walked away I lamented that I had not ordered cheese on my vegetarian variation of the American classic. I expressed this sentiment to my companion and then made my way to the restroom. Upon my return I was informed that cheddar cheese had been ordered on my behalf. A good thing too as I was soon to discover. The burger was a poorly constructed hodgepodge of grains and beans and peas or something. Only the cheese and the other toppings saved the thing from being a total loss. By the time I was halfway through the burger was falling apart. A knife and fork were required to consume the rest. Simultaneous to this I ate my mashed potatoes, which were a good deal better than the burger. In retrospect I think I might have done better to discard the patty and replace it with mashed potatoes. Not ideal certainly, but the same could be said of the patty. Meanwhile, my companion seemed to enjoy his brownie sundae.

The next day I found myself alone at Swingers of Santa Monica. I was there to kill time and my intent was to have a cup of coffee. I was about to order the very same when I noticed a good deal. The offer that I couldn't refuse was $3.99 for two pancakes, an egg (any style), and sausage. I inquired if they had vegetarian sausage and discovered that they did. I put in my order and checked my watch. I hoped that my meal would come quickly because, while I had ample time for coffee, a whole breakfast was stretching the point. The food arrived, if not quickly, at least quicker than it might have. I scarfed down the pancakes, eggs (scrambled), and vegetarian sausage more or less all mixed together and covered in syrup. I found it all to be pretty okay.

Only a few hours elapsed before I once again darkened the doorstep of Swingers of Santa Monica. This time my companion from the previous evening elected to join me. I was still full of pancakes, eggs, and vegetarian sausage, but I ordered a small Greek salad anyway. This proved to be disappointing. My first charge against it was that the plate was much too small. The salad called to mind a brave but overweight daredevil perched atop a flagpole. If it was absolutely left alone one supposed that it might have gone on as it was for some time, but the moment another element was introduced, say a fork, ever so lightly applied to an olive, it seemed preordained that a good deal of the leafy greens and onions would find themselves scattered in the surrounding area. And, as the wheels of fate inevitably turned, it was so. Setting aside this complaint and getting to the meat, if that's what it ought to be called, of the matter, my opinion did not greatly improve. I won't say that the salad should have been offered for free on a discount airline, but it was a near thing. The greens were about a day past their prime, the onions were strong and nothing else, the feta was dry, and the dressing was bland. Had I paid three or four dollars I would have felt alright, but the price tag was more in the neighborhood of seven dollars. I had seen enough of Swingers for a while.

At this juncture my narrative continues at Fred 62, a place with somewhat questionable decor. The overall theme was seemed to be informed by rockabilly nostalgia for the early 1960s seen through the lens of a mall food court. Despite my misgivings regarding the ambiance I sat down across from two other hungry souls with high hopes. Those hungry souls alluded to in the previous sentence were friends who lived in the neighborhood and who assured me that Fred 62's food was nothing to scoff at. Without much hesitation I selected what was billed as a "hippie sandwich" with French fries on the side. The sandwich was served on round bread and while I don't recall all of the layers betwixt these two starchy circles I will say that I immediately dolled out high marks. As best as I can recall there were sprouts, avocado, tomatoes, and some kind of cheese. The French fries we served in a small brown paper bag. I'm not exactly sure what use the paper bag had, but the fries were good, if not great. I was my opinion that the food at Fred 62 could best the food at Swingers with one hand tied behind its back.

Next up was Brite Spot. Actually it was called "Alexander's Brite Spot". I don't know if that implies that other restaurants of the same moniker exist elsewhere, but if so I could hardly expect them to have the charm on exhibit at Alexander's branch. The booths were comfortable and the decor was nostalgic without straying into the realm of kitsch. This, if I were to guess, was the result of doing nothing to update the place for the past 30 or 40 years. In any case, I was very hungry and I was glad to see that the menu offered many options in the way of sustenance. Aside from the usual diner selections there was also a page devoted to Mexican choices. It was from this bill of fare that I ordered. A few minutes later a breakfast burrito was set down in front of me. My first impression was that it looked too plain. It came unadorned on a large oval plate. A few seconds later my spirits rose when salsa and sour cream were added to the food in front of me. I applied the toppings and gave the burrito a hearty try. I found it to be more or less alright, but lacking in any real inspiration. The eggs tasted like eggs and the beans like beans. The cheese, which can propel the breakfast burrito to great heights, was a non factor. If it tasted like anything at all I didn't notice.

A second round at Fred 62 was in the cards for me. This time for breakfast. Casting aside a brief thought of ordering a breakfast sandwich I ordered up a plate of scrambled eggs, toast, and hash browns. These came in short order and I am pleased to say that they were very good. I don't want to take my praise too far because this trio of venerable standards is difficult to prepare incorrectly. The two things that set this version apart were that the hash browns were extra crispy and that the toast, much like the bread from my so-called hippie sandwich, was round.

My odyssey ends, in a way, as it began. That is to say that it ends with my desire to order a good fried egg sandwich. I did that very thing upon my second visit to Alexander's Brite Spot. Possibly there may have been a side item served with my sandwich, but I don't recall. My attention was focused on one of the best fried egg sandwiches I have ever eaten. Each aspect of it was not just good, but great. The bread, sourdough I believe, was toasted just short of golden brown. The egg was fried right to the point where it was thoroughly cooked, but not dry. All of that was well enough, but where it truly diverted from the ordinary fried egg sandwich was the inclusion of lettuce and tomato. And not just any lettuce and tomato, but a beautifully green crisp leaf of lettuce and two or three thin slices of flavorful tomato. All these elements worked in concert to bring me the experience that I had been searching for my whole trip.

Swingers of Hollywood
Fried Egg Sandwiches Not Offered on a Bagel: F
Vegetarian Burger: D
Cheese and Toppings: B
Mashed Potatoes: A-
Dining Companion's Brownie Sundae (estimated): A-
Swingers of Hollywood: C-

Swingers of Santa Monica
Pancakes: B
Scrambled Eggs: B
Vegetarian Sausage: B+
Covering Everything in Syrup: A-
Good Deal on Breakfast: B+
Greek Salad: C-
Size of Plate on Which Greek Salad Was Served: F
Price of Greek Salad: F
Swingers of Santa Monica: C+

Fred 62
Decor: D
Hippie Sandwich: A
French Fries: B+
Scrambled Eggs: B
Hash Browns: A
Toast: A-
Fred 62: B+

Alexander's Brite Spot
Decor: A-
Breakfast Burrito: C+
Fried Egg Sandwich: A+
Possible Side with Fried Egg Sandwich: ?
Alexander's Brite Spot: A-

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Citerella Salad

I had a salad the other day. I had to go out of my way to get it. I purchased this salad in large part because I've been working at the same place for two years and I've gotten tired of most of the fast and cheap options in the neighborhood. I can't count the times I've had pizza, bagels, falafel, and most other things in the nearby blocks. In short: The eateries on offer are old hat.

It was with great joy then that I received word from a coworker that a gourmet grocery store a few blocks north had good preprepared salads. I was also informed by this same individual that the salads, while not cheap, were not outrageously expensive. I looked forward to the moment when I might have the opportunity to purchase such a salad.

The chance came around three in the afternoon one day when I found myself hungry and with a lull in the work I had to do. I remembered the conversation with my coworker as I made the short jaunt up north for my purchase. I wondered what the salads would look like. Would they be large or small? Would they have any cheese in them? What dressings would they have?

I entered the establishment, a ritzy place called Citerella, and made my way past the olive bar to where the salads were located. I saw that I had a number of choices. A couple salads contained meat and so I disregarded those immediately. A woman next to me was examining the standard salad with cherry tomatoes, yellow and red peppers, and onions. After a few moments of looking she set the salad down and walked away. I decided she was right about the standard salad. I considered for a moment a Mediterranean salad, but it looked a little insubstantial. In the end I selected a spinach and blue cheese salad. On my way up to the register I also picked up an "olive pocket", which looked like a roll with a bunch of olives on the inside.

Back at work I sat down, ready to enjoy my lunch. I took a bite of the olive pocket first. It was more or less what I expected: Bread and lots of olives. Next I opened up my salad. For a second after I opened it, and no more than a second, everything seemed fine. After that a smell reached me. It was the smell of spoiled spinach. I took a closer look at the salad. Some of the spinach looked alright, but at least half of it had dark edges. Some was dried and yet moist, thin and fragile and slimy. I took a closer smell. I didn't like it at all.

I checked a clock and saw that I wouldn't have enough time to go back to the store. I frowned. I was going to have to make the best of the salad. I set about picking out the bad spinach as best as I could and then poured all of the dressing, blue cheese, and croutons onto what remained. Even having taken these measures the spoiled spinach taste reared its head. Each bite, while not revolting, had that slightly sour aftertaste. I poked through a little more and got rid of a few more suspicious leaves. Still, it wouldn't suffice. What I had on my hands was a bad salad. I ate a few pieces of the blue cheese, which was okay. I closed up the salad container and ate the rest of the olive pocket. I went back to work, still hungry and feeling a little queasy at the thought of food.

Spinach Salad: F
Blue Cheese: B
Olive Pocket: B
Queasy Feeling: D
Coworker's Advice: D-
Overall Experience: D