Tuesday, January 19, 2010

New cookware

Because no one understands my predilections like my father lets pause a little to bask in the excellent birthday present he bought me; new Anolon classic ceramic cookware.

Now a lot of people ask me why not Scanpan, but I like non stick cookware (apart from my trusty iron skillet and copper coffee pot of course) despite the life time guarantee my father has sent his non stick Scanpan frypan in for replacement no less than 4 times. I really don't consider that acceptable for any frypan worth triple digits so... Anolon it is then!

The usually 6 piece set came with a free deep dish fry pan and a cookie sheet as well. Because apparently the kitchen wear store is psychic about what I like to cook.

I'm not sure I can rave enough about how much I love these pans, the weight, the heat distribution, the ease of cleaning... it's all good. If you're going to invest in a good set of pans then make sure to pause over these.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Review: Cheeburger Cheeburger, Lawrenceville, New Jersey, USA

There is something so quintessentially American about the 50's diner eatery, isn't there? Make it in a strip mall in New Jersey and you're really just icing the cake. Cheeburger Cheeburger is the oldy worldy diner done well and in a country where food additives and Z grade meat products appear norm the organic beef and home made fries are a little haven of good old fashioned burger joint.

The interior and service are all Americana gone crazy. We're met at the door by a greeter and transferred to a food server, who takes us to a bright blue vinyl and chrome setting. We're given menus and look a little confused at many things but they spot the accent and have a little "aaaah so that's it" moment to themselves.

Now I'm sure there are other worthy items on the menu, but the whole point of Cheeburger Cheeburger is the custom built to order Cheeseburgers.

Choose a size, a cheese and as many of a huge range of fillings as you want all for a set price. Want it mexicana? Add jalapenos, guacamole, cheese and salad. Want it SouthWestern? Throw on some grilled onions and smokey BBQ (... and maybe some bacon om nom nom). I find it hard to beat the classics though; swiss, pickles, ketchup and mustard. Tasty good!

I would have really liked it if they'd had some "suggestions" for taste combinations though, I got totally overwhelmed!

One of the things I really like in America is that they offer to cook your meat to order as you would other meats; so you can have your burger patty pink and moist or burnt to a crisp, it's totally up to you!

Shake $4.95USD

Cheeburger really loves it's "choose it yourself" attitude. The shakes come with an entire page of flavours that can be mixed and matched for a theoretic 378 000 flavour combinations. This is a double chocolate shake so thick the straw stands up dead straight and becomes a hindrance to finishing the actual meal.

Dr Pepper Float $3.99USD

Really though, I can get good shakes at home (bring me a Burger Fuel Soy Vanilla Malt kthxbai!) so I opt instead for a Dr Pepper Float. Two giant scoops of rich creamy Edy's vanilla ice cream are thrown into a mixer cup full of Dr Pepper, and I'm given a side dish of soft drink to add to my float when I run out of liquid. This is important since the scoops of ice cream are the size of my fist and could never be finished with just one cup of drink.

Pepsi post mix $1.99USD

In America drinks are endless for your money, and the ratio of syrup to soda at this store is much better than most places I've been to. Sadly there's no Diet Dr Pepper on tap but endless Diet Pepsi to wash down the giant burger doesn't go astray. The addition of the quaint Mason Jar glass makes me smile.

Now you have to keep in mind that the Cheeburger Cheeburger tag line is "big is better" when you view these burgers.

Semi Serious 1/3 lb - $6.19USD

It's the second smallest burger on the menu at 1/3 of a pound, for reference this is the same size as the C & Cheese at Burger Fuel ... still a monster of a burger IMHO. I avoid loading it with too much so this is just double swiss, extra pickles with ketchup/mustard to add at tableside. It's picture perfect and the patty is just right! The bun is a great type for a burger too, chewy but not too fake, not crusty and with a 'real bread' density; in general the quality of bread in the US isn't great so I'm very happily surprised by this.

The Delirious 3/4 lb - $8.69USD

At 14oz this is no less than 400g of meat prior to cooking. Think about it. It's ordered medium and with salad and chillis. From the eye rolling finger pointing goodness I take it to be excellent but after ice cream laiden drinks and with sides we are all clutching ourselves painfully by the end of the meal.

Best of Both Regular $5.09USD

Home made 'dirty' fries with the skin still on and giant delicious morish onion rings all cooked in light peanut oil. They were damn good but the burgers were so big I couldn't finish.

Now... these burgers were so damn good we just *had* to go back before I left the States. This time we had a plan! No shakes, sodas only, onion rings for the goth, fries begone!

Semi Serious 1/3 lb - $6.19USD

I stick with the size I know I can eat. After some experimentation I can highly recommend this combination - medium patty, smokey BBQ sauce, double Swiss cheese, onion rings, side order of mayo. Oh god, table thumpingly good.

And for my friend... it was time for the challenge meal. Oh god. The pounder.

Our Famous Pounder 1 lb - $10.49USD

When it comes out it looks more like a cob loaf than a roll. It has to be held together with more than one stick. For unknown reasons it has been ordered loaded with salad and double cheese. The eyes of the diner widen to take it in and the eating starts. It's a little offputting to watch, and my friend requires multiple napkins throughout the meal but I'm impressed he gets through the first half before I've made a dent in mine.

In fact by the time I've finished my somewhat normal sized meal he's finished the entire thing. Sadly I didn't get a copy of the picture they took to put on the wall but they did let him hold a giant plushie burger and announced his achievement to the whole restaurant.

2 Scoop Sundae - $2.99USD

While my friend groans and leaks meat fat a little I have eaten my meal slowly and with plenty of diet soft drink so I have room for sweets. I have learnt my lesson after a few days in the US and order a child sized - the normal sundae is twice this size. It comes with just the right amount of fudge sauce and crumbled peanut butter cups. That Edy's ice cream is rich and delicious and I savour the whole thing.

Surprisingly the entire meal sits quite well on my stomach, I have sized it correctly and eaten slowly and while I have no doubt eaten a big meal it is not uncomfortable and the choice of peanut oil and high quality meat patty mean that I don't feel like I've been bulldozed by animal fat. My friend doesn't fair quite so well, his stomach bloats until he looks pregnant and spends much of the night clutching himself and groaning while I shake my head and poke his middle.

This is without a doubt one of the best most satisfying burger joints I've ever eaten at; it's not fancy or gourmet just solid comfort food done really really well. For the vegetarians they do grilled cheeses to order much the same as the burgers, and there's plenty of awesome vegan sides and tasty desserts on offer. Highly recommended, especially if you're travelling with kids or fussy eaters.

... In fact I want to go back right now :o(

Cheeburger Cheeburger
Cheeburger Cheeburger - Lawrenceville
3349 Brunswick Pike
Suite 70
Lawrenceville, NJ, USA

+1 (609) 799 2222

Family atmosphere, casual dining
No reservations required, no alcohol
Locations require car access

Monday, January 11, 2010

Review: Ninja, Tribeca, New York City, USA

My friend insisted we visit this theme restaurant while I was in New York; being that I like Japanese food and utter silliness. Ninja is rather on the American side of Japanese cuisine but it's Asian fusion tastiness and a lot of fun.

Located underground in a fairly innocuous looking Tribeca building only the lantern out the front gives away the magic held therein.

The entire restaurant is decked out like a 19th century Japanese fishing village... or at least one that was built by Hollywood. The dining rooms are all private separate rooms in small "buildings" up stairs, behind shoji screens, through fluttering noren curtains and in sunken pits; from the outside they're designed to look like small shops and houses. The 'village' is pieced together by wooden walkways and jutting 'rock' walls and provide a quaint and bustling other world feel. The whole place is really like a family funtime restaurant for grown up otaku, it's Disneyland with better food and a fully stocked bar.

Americans are really into their situational roleplaying, you get this a lot at tourist sites and amusement parks; Ninja is no different. "Ninjas" dressed in black cotton uniforms whisk us away into a dark portal and through a 'secret passage' which is so dark I must feel my way along the corridor; we know that "something" is coming but it doesn't stop me from jumping and yelping when a ninja leaps out at me and thrusts a knife in my face.

Because we have not booked we are led to a small waiting room and given a menu to peruse. In the background we hear many parties laughing and "Hi-ya!"-ing through their meal and everyone's having a riotous time.

Eventually we are led to a private dining room and introduced to our own personal ninja. I am vaguely disappointed that he is not Asian but he is enthusiastic and very attentive so I try to ignore my woeful pro-Asian sentiments.

We're on holiday, so it's time for the most amount of food we can possibly fit into ourselves. I am a little surprised that being Americanised that it's not a full kaiseki as I was expecting but rather just a multicourse tasting menu. We go for the "Hanzou" set meal ($88USD) the largest there is and encompassing as much of the "Ninja Magic" special meals as we can. Most of the meals here are named after famous samurai; Hattori Hanzo was a vassal of the Matsudaira clan and served Tokugawa Ieyasu during his rise to Shogun he is not as many assume, a great sword maker ala Kill Bill.

Sake Tasting Set $20USD

We also opt for the Hanzo sake tasting set; featuring a number of junmai 'pure rice' nihonshu graded by age and rice grain polish. To be honest none of its really to my taste especially the aged sake that's worth the most; blugh, I'll stick with ume shu.

Ume shu $12USD

Ume shu is a sweet plum wine that I generally drink by the bucket load, this particular brand is lovely but they refuse to sell me a whole bottle (bastards!) so I have no idea what it is.

Sapporo $2.95USD

And of course it wouldn't be a Japanese meal without some beer; especially when it's $2.95 for Sapporo.

Our first dish is called battojutsu or "the art of drawing the sword" the name owed to a fast draw technique usually performed with a katana, where the sword is drawn, several cuts are made and then the sword is placed back in the scabbard - think . In our case instead it is used for a little "Ninja" magic, the sword is drawn and drops dry ice into a hidden vessal, we must give our largest battle cries as we do so and are rewarded with a snowy mist of smoke flowing over our dish.

Battojutsu - included with Hanzou Set $88USD course 1 of 5

The dish itself is a crudo of tuna and yellowtail served with beetroot and sprouts and a ginger dressing; along with a bowl of tuna confit. It's light and well done, the cold beets and sashimi go together very well, if a little odd in the middle of a New York winter! The smattering of gold on the confit adds to the magic.

Katon Bomb - included with Hanzou Set $88USD course 1 of 5

For my choice of first course I forgo the ninja magic because there's liver terrine to be had - however I should have paused when I remember that the word "katon" means 'fire' - we are surprised with flash powder and a unique serving technique. Liver, duck and foie gras terrine is infused with pistachios and served with a konbu salad. There's not much Japanese about it but the liver is good quality and the terrine is firm and well textured and goes well with the wasabi/mustard paste. I'd have preferred a bread product than salad with the terrine :o(

Nigiri Sushi - included with Hanzou Set $88USD course 2 of 5

Sadly there is no choice of second dish, it's sushi or nothing! This is a shame since one of my friends doesn't eat fish :o( A fairly generic selection this is Tuna, Salmon, Cod, Snapper, Skipjack and Salmon roe. We question the choice of Skipjack, I've never heard of it nor have any of my friends, we assume it to be a local fish and give it a try; we are ... not happy with the results. The flesh is very "fishy" and not well suited to being served raw, the quality seems good more that it is very overpowering compared to the other very light sashimi pieces. The other fish is fairly well done but not excellent, I think perhaps because I am spoilt by good food and high levels of Japanese immigration at home rather than because there is anything wrong with the restaurant.

Kirikabu - included with Hanzou Set $88USD course 3 of 5

This piece of ninja magic comes in the form of a kirikabu "log" which we must "Ninja chop!" to get open. Our dish is housed underneath a large hollow log made of filo pastry and painted with edible ink wood grain. The entire thing is quite fun, though... a little messy!

The dish is thinly sliced wagyu on a bed of rice, served in a sauced called "Michinobu" and covered with enoki mushrooms. I'm not sure what they were getting at with the Michinobu name since I cannot in my memory of shogunate Japan recall a particular case of this name - though there are a number of poets and artists who have this first name. The dish is fairly nice but the wagyu isn't as good quality as at home and the rice is too wet for my tastes - they are using a Chinese sticky long grain rather than a Japanese short grain rice.

Rib Eye Steak - included with Hanzou Set $88USD course 4 of 5

Everything's bigger in America right? Despite the fact that this is a tasting course it appears the main protein is the size of a standard dinner serve. Not much to tell here, this is a steak, served with some Asian inspired sauces.

Bonfire - included with Hanzou Set $88USD course 4 of 5

My main lamb dish however comes ON FIRE. Or at least they use a low heat flame gel to set my dish on fire and mix the sauce. It's good fun! The lamb itself is a little generic I think particularly if you're used to Australia where good lamb is plentiful and I wanted something a little more Japanese infused. The sauce is at least a yuzu dish, but really, it entirely overpowers the meat and I leave most of it behind.

How would you do Japanese lamb? Thoughts must be had! It would make the ultimate Aussie/Nippon fusion!

Before dessert (but not before another drink!) we are given a private magic show in our dining room. To be honest the guy is a little ... odd; like in his spare time he'd quote endless Monty Python at you and carry asthma medication. I like my nerds but this guy's... interesting. I think the secret though is a) plentiful alcohol and b) private rooms. It's easier to 'get into' the magic when there's no one else to see.

Spiced Pumpkin Bonsai - included with Hanzou Set $88USD course 5 of 5

The desserts are really fun. I choose a spiced pumpkin dessert which is a pumpkin cream 'pudding' in a bonsai dish, spread with cookie crumb 'dirt' and a bonsai tree made of pie crust all served with berry sorbet and fresh fruits. Light and fresh but still sweet and surprising this was a real highlight of the meal!

Rose Chocolate - included with Hanzou Set $88USD course 5 of 5

A chocolate layer biscuit, excellent rose infused chocolate mousse and fruit come with another smokey surprise!

Ninja Star - included with Hanzou Set $88USD course 5 of 5

A real live ninja star is transformed into a rich chocolate mousse cake before our very eyes!!

The only real downside to the experience is that every so often a ninja jumped into the room to 'attack' us, or a set off a flash bomb or other such fun. Unfortunately I am of an anxious disposition and have to swap seats with a friend so that I get attacked less. Similarly on the way to the bathroom I almost peed myself a little when I got "ninja-ed" 3 times on the walk down the corridor. On the other hand when I arrived at the bathrooms I found that they came equipt complete with Japanese Toto commodes - you know the type you revel at in Japanese hotels with the 18 contraptions, soundtrack and warmed seat? Kind of nice on a freezing New York night ;o)

All in all Ninja was great fun. The food was possibly a little over priced for the quality, but the quailty was still very good and the additional money I think goes with the 'flair.' Definitely worth a stop in if you're holidaying with kids, or y'know... just a Japanese obsessed goth chick.

Ninja, NYC
25 Hudson St (Tribeca)
New York City, NY
USA 10013
Ph: +1 212 274 8500

Souvenir shirts and stickers available
Family fun for kids of all ages
Fully licenced bar

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Review: Amy Ruth's Soul Food, Harlem, New York City, USA

On arrival into New York it was blustering snow and freezing cold. The owner of our inn had listed a number of local suggestions, however rather than the standard bistro and Italian fair on offer I opted for the very American Soul Food.

Soul Food is that "stick to your ribs" down country home style cooking popular in the Southern US states, particularly with African Americans, using a mix of local specialties and inherited African ingredients. It is warm, hearty and not particularly kind to your waist line but it is oh so good on a freezing cold day.

Amy Ruth's is a well established soul food eatery in New York, we'd been recommended it by a local however we discovered quickly that it is in fact listed in the Lonely Planet guidebook and is apparently often filled with tourists. Not today, today it was just shivering families and groups of local students warming themselves against the snow.

Cornbread and butter - complimentary

While we poured over the large menu excitedly they brought out warm moist cornbread, a quick bread made from ground corn meal. It's sweet and light and delicious with warm melted butter.

We were going to order half the sides when we discovered that our main meals came with several, hoorays!

The "Reggie Harris" - $14.95USD

I figured on ordering something incredibly 'fitting' so this is fried chicken, dipped in honey sauce, with candied yams and grits. I've always wondered on what candied yams were but they're basically sweet potatoes, baked in a brown sugar and butter sauce. Grits are a form of corn meal porridge, it really reminds me of congee if it were made in America; and because it is, it is topped with orange 'American Cheese'. The fried chicken is large and moist and excellent, in keeping with most American portion sizes I am given no less than half a chicken for the cost of my dinner. Unfortunately I think with all the honey and sugar in the meal it was a little over powering, in future I'd be tempted to order greens instead.

The "President Barack Obama" - Cajun style $13.25USD

Cajun seasoned chicken (another half a chicken) is baked again to moist perfection and served with buttered beans and corn. This is about the only place I saw corn kernels as a side dish rather than ground up and put in *everything*. This surprised me, especially as I rather like sweetcorn and started to get weird cravings for it by the end of my holiday. The beans were a little on the soft side, I don't know if this is intentional or they were just over cooked, the seasoning however was tasty enough to make me overlook this mistake.

In the end the serving sizes and the heartiness of the food means that we left maybe... half the portion on the plate. But there's always room for dessert right?

Inez Bass' Red Velvet Cake $5USD

Soft soft soft red velvet chocolate cake melted under the spoon. This is easily the best plain chocolate sponge I've ever eaten in my life. I wonder the secret, it feels as though it's been triple sieved and mixed with something light - rice flour perhaps? I rather like the American way of serving red velvet cake with cream cheese icing and walnuts - in Australia this is limited to Banana and Carrot cakes, and that fact makes me sad.

Neal Shoemaker's Peach Cobbler $4.50USD

Cobblers are rather like a soft dumpling form of crumble. This classic southern dish is swimming in peach and cinnamon filling with sweet dumpling crust pieces and wedges of stewed peach. I am only able to eat about a third of the bowl before I give up and poke my rapidly expanding belly.

In the American way all the drinks seem to be endless; post mix Pepsi variants at $2.50USD tolerable coffee in an endless cup comes in at $2USD. I say tolerable because coffee in the states appears to be like their beer, weak, watery and like making love in a canoe. In all but the highest class of restaurants coffee comes with tubs of creamer or "half and half" instead of real milk.

Amy Ruth's isn't high class and it isn't sophisticated but it is damn good. On a night like this in the cold it is just perfect and warming and the staff are friendly if somewhat perplexed at the strangely accented and made up tourist taking photos of everything. Definitely recommended for a taste of the South while you're in Yankee territory.

Amy Ruth's
113 West 116th St
Harlem New York USA 10026
Phone +1 212 280 8779

Monday: Lunch to 11pm
Tuesday - Thursday: Breakfast till 11pm
Friday - Saturday: Breakfast till 5:30am
Sunday: Breakfast till 11pm

Family atmosphere, casual dining