Monday, July 31, 2006

The Skinny on Pizza Dipping

The other night, my boyfriend and I ordered a pizza for dinner. Although this is a practice I rarely engage in (I would prefer to make my own, or quickly whip up a tasty and healthy meal)– laziness too over and the idea of a delivery within 30 minutes was too good to pass up. Well, okay, that sounds a little elitist. I would rather make my own pizza then order one? It is a slight exaggeration, but it seems necessary as I tend (or at least try) to present myself as someone with culinary prowess.

Anyway, when I called to place my order (1 large pie 1/2 plain, 1/2 onion) I, almost innately it seemed, asked for a side of ranch dressing. As a quick caveat, I was disappointed to hear that the pizza place didn't have ranch dressing. I am fairly certain that this disappointment has promoted the writing of this blog.

I, like many other pizza eating North Americans, enjoy an occasional dip of my pizza in salad dressing. I say North Americans because when doing a little background sleuthing on this pizza dipping topic, I came across an article about how Canadians eat their pizza. Apparently, according to this one article, (which I agree no way scientifically or accurately depicts an entire country's pizza eating habits) Canadians dunk their pizza in dips – somewhat analogous to American's dipping pizza in salad dressing.

The whole concept of pizza dipping is personally fascinating. Does it warrant an entire blog entry? It's debatable I agree, but pizza dipping is a relatively new habit of mine. In my 27 years of existence, I have only been a pizza dipper for 9. Generally speaking, of course, I don't think Long Islanders are pizza dippers. I never pizza dipped (nor did any of my friends growing up), until I moved to Central Pennsylvania for college (Penn State by the way…). When I asked my friend from Rochester, New York whether she pizza dipped, her response was, "No Gross." So where is this practice most pervasive and why do some pizza connoisseurs dip their pizza in salad dressing?

Everyone I knew from Pennsylvania, or at least my friends from PSU, dipped their pizza in either ranch or blue cheese dressing. Those of us who were unaccustomed to the practice, curiously joined in and haven't stopped. But outside of PA, I haven't traveled in too many pizza dipping circles. Because of this, my curiosity of the habit has been heightened, especially after my ranchless pizza eating experience on Friday. In an attempt to leave no pizza stone unturned, I have done a little pizza polling. Here is what my informal and unscientific study has produced:

Lauren from State College, PA: " I never dipped until I moved to State College. Now I dip in ranch. It's a Central PA thing, maybe Pennsylvania Dutch."

Dave from Albany, NY: "Salad dressing plays a limited roll in my pizza eating experience. Perhaps I would dip some unfinished crust."

George from eastern New Providence, NJ: "I only dip inferior pizza. Shitty pizza warrants the extra compensation. The concept of pizza dipping arose in College towns where poor college students ate bad pizza. They would compensate by dipping the pizza in salad dressings to improve the taste. Eh, for me, I would dip in ranch, but only if it were available to me."

Dan from western New Providence, NJ: " Absolutely. French dressing all the way. I have tried other dressings in college but French dressing is by far the best."

So from my informal survey, pizza dipping appears to be a regional phenomenon, and potentially limited to just Pennsylvania and New Jersey. So is pizza dipping like Taylor egg and cheese sandwiches are to New Jersey? Or, is one man's french dressing another man's ranch, just as one man's hoagie is another man's sub?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

romance without taste

It was my boyfriend's birthday this week so I thought I would take him out to a nice restaurant to celebrate. Someone at work mentioned that 'One if by Land, Two if by Sea' was supposed to be the most romantic restaurant so I went for it. If it wasn't on the list for restaurant week I might have passed it up with a price fix menu at $70 that did not include drinks and grat...

I was pretty psyched as we walked up to the unmarked door in greenwich village and entered what used to be an old carriage house once owned by Aaron Burr. It's true that it's pretty romantic with live piano in the background, fresh flowers and candles at every table. We tried our best to enjoy the birthday dinner but being the critics we are, we couldn't help but discuss this fine restaurant's downfalls. For one, it sort of felt like I was in my grandmother's house. Although the chef has been talked up in every publication, we found the food to be uninspired. Perhaps ordering from the restaurant week menu was our downfall, but you'd think they would want to get first-timers to come back to their restaurant. The hake I ordered tasted only of the butter it was fried in.

I must say the dessert was a stand-out as we ordered a warm peach cobbler paired with ginger ice cream and a molten chocolate fondant. All in all, I would have to give it a thumbs down because although the name isn't ordinary, the fare is.

Diner 24 No More

Up until a few years ago, I never knew how integral diners were to American history. Apparently, the origins of the first diner can be traced back to 1858 when food was first served from a horse-drawn carriage in Rhode Island. But despite their pervasiveness in 2006, there was only one diner in my home town – The Cutchogue Diner. As much of a landmark the Cutchogue Diner is to my community, including some of its frequent patrons, there is nothing remarkable or palatable about it.

As such, I have generally associated diners as grease lovers' paradises, or a truck stop along an interstate. Still somewhat believing diner patrons should get clearance from their cardiologists before dinning, I have come to realize that diners are for many, a way of life, a neighborhood restaurant, or better yet, a place of social gathering. Having spent a significant amount of time in New Jersey recently, it also appears that diners may employ a large majority of the New Jersey workforce.

The last few years have afforded me a more personal experience with diners. There's the Halfmoon Diner in Halfmoon, New York, The Hampton Bays Diner, and more recently, Diner 24. Diner 24 has been one of my most favorite restaurants in New York City. There is nothing truck-stop about Diner 24, as it is situated in the heart of Chelsea, or the edge of the Meat-Packing District, if you prefer. Diner 24 is fabulously gay, trendy, loud and it's fare is retro comfo (retro comfort food). Although its patrons may be more Democratic then lets say, The Palm, Diner 24 is for me, a bit Hemingwayesque – it is my clean, well-lighted place. The only resemblance Diner 24 may have to a more traditional diner are the hours of operation. Open 24 hours, Diner 24 provides tables to patrons without a wait, even during the busy dinner hours.

The menu includes disco fries, a la cheese fries but with truffle brie and fine herbs, mac-n-cheese (with Jarlsburg and Vermont Cheddar cheese, of course), fish tacos and a variety of Chelsea-like adult beverages, including a strawberry basil mojito. Last night a few girlfriends and I went to Diner 24 for some retro comfo, drinks, girl-talk and lots of laughs. Although the aforementioned were obtained flawlessly, the experience was not what I expected it to be. The first sign that Diner 24 was no more was the menu. Although the menu items were the same, or so it seemed, the menu was stylistically different. It no longer resembled a diner menu. For starters, the menu was passively aggressively insulting. The dishes were broken down by regions of the world, as if I would not know that the fish tacos were prepared with a Latin American influence. Slightly agitated, I ordered the fish tacos hoping that the menu was not a sign of greater changes to come.

The fish tacos were so different than what I am used to savoring, craving, returning for, etc… The "original" Diner 24 fish tacos were made with a seared white fish, probably Cod or Monkfish, and served in a soft tortilla. Absolutely delicious. Last night's tacos claimed to be seared Monkfish, but by seared, the Chef meant deep-fried. Yes, the fish came deep fried, with all the wonder accoutrements, but instead of the soft tortilla, it came in a "crispy" (again, a la deep-fried) shell. Although I still devoured it, this new Diner 24 does require clearance from your cardiologist.

My friends and I still had a great time and our overall experience wasn't tainted by the stylistic or preparation changes, but I did leave with a sense of disappointment. Just when I was starting to understand the American diner phenomena, my one diner muse was taken away from me.

Until next time…

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Praise Pesto!

Looking for a New York City apartment is no walk in the park. It is a process, a full-time job, and a major financial undertaking. Fortunately for me, I never had to go through the process. Shortly after I learned I was moving to New York City, a good friend of mine offered me her apartment as she was moving to New Jersey. I took the apartment sight unseen.

Despite my personal inexperience, I have witnessed family and many friends go through the process of searching for an apartment in New York City. The endless hours on Craigslist, or the multiple appointments with realtors, only to find that an apartment advertised as a spacious, sunny, oversized one bedroom in a safe building with outdoor space is really only a small alcove studio with no windows in a late 19th century walk-up tenement building with a rickety fire escape. The latter I believe to be an accurate description of my apartment. I digress, but I am going somewhere with this.

As outdoor space in New York City has become as hot as carrying a small teacup Chihuahua in a Louis Vuitton pet carrier, I have successfully turned my rusty, dilapdated fire escape into a teaming and bountiful gardenscape. Earlier this summer, my boyfriend and I planted several different types of herbs in an oversized planter on my fire escape. After several weeks of faithful herbscaping, the basil and parsley are as high as an elephant's eye. To avoid competing with the large oak tree outside my only functional window (that was probably planted by Mr. Van Rensaleer himself), I decided it was time for a harvest. Since we had so much basil and parsley, a pesto recipe was in order!

Last night I made the most deliciously garlicky, emphasis added, pesto. I found a recipe for a tri-herb pesto, which called for basil, parsley and mint. Having a palate that is partial to a basil pesto, I decided to go out on a mint stem and challenge my palate's partiality. Using my new "mini" food processor, which by the way has forever changed my life, I chopped and grinded until I perfected my pesto. The recipe I used called for equal portions of the three herbs, pine nuts, olive oil, parmesan cheese and 2 cloves of garlic. Although the parsley and mint added a nice crispness and freshness to the pesto, the 2 cloves of garlic were a bit much. It would have been the perfect portion for pesto for eight, but a bit overwhelming for the small portion I made. The pesto was served over grilled chicken breasts and complimented by paprika seasoned fingerling potatoes. It ended up being a lovely meal and I would do it again using just 1 garlic clove.

Even though I still have a bad case of garlic breath, the experience was well worth it. For me, it is less about the garlic aftermath, and all about the use of fresh herbs from my so-called "outdoor space."

Until next time....

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

'Tis The Tomato

I had the most delicious tomato salad the other day at Houstons on Park Avenue. Despite an embarrassing culinary faux pas, I do believe I have resurrected the error and have become a better person for it. The backstory on the culinary calamity has everything to do with my inexperience with alcohol and perhaps a little to do with my limited knowledge on the various varieties of tomatoes. I am, what I consider, to be a beer and wine girl. I often have cravings for a good margarita, but have never really developed the know how on vodka, gin and other types of alcohol (Campari included). Cognizant that this is a fatal flaw in NYC, I have managed to survive and have not lost any friends over it.

Back to my tomato salad... So the salad de jour at Houstons was Campari tomatoes with fresh basil. Instantly intrigued, I ordered thinking the tomatoes were marinated in Campari and this would be the backdoor into expanding my alcohol repertoire. Despite my anticipation, the tomatoes tasted nothing like alcohol. They were, and this must be emphasized, the best tasting tomatoes I have ever had!! They were cut in half, drizzled with the best extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkled with coarse sea salt and black pepper. A fresh basil leaf was delicately placed on each tomato half. The tomatoes were perfectly ripe and juicy.

Still believing I was eating Campari marinated tomatoes, I began planning my next meal, which would of course include this delightful salad. The next day I googled "Campari and tomatoes" hoping to get some cooking tips when I discovered my culinary faux pas. I was mortified by my discovery and had it not been for the discovery occurring in the privacy of my own office, I might have died. To my utter astonishment, the salad I had at Houstons consisted of campari tomatoes - not tomatoes marinated in Campari. I feel obligated to share with you all my discovery. A campari tomato is a new variety of tomato. It is a perfectly round, roughly the size of a golf ball and deep in a red color. For more information, I suggest visiting www. Take a look for campari tomatoes in a store near you!!

To my relief, I have completely recovered from this mishap and have a new outlook on life. The next drink I order will be a Campari and soda and my tomato basil salads will be forever made with campari tomatoes!

'Tis the Tomato! Until next time!

PS and NEWS FLASH: All across the North and South Forks of Long Island, field ripened tomatoes are being picked this week. Big, fat, juicy field tomatoes, they are among the very best tomatoes on the East Coast, and they are ready on your favorite farm stands.
10:18 PM

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Chefs in the City Blog!

Alright, I set up a blog so you can go to town ladies! Feel free to change any settings you want, I just picked a random template. More to come!