Thursday, July 31, 2008

Stick to Cigars

My travels recently brought me once again to the Fort Greene area of Brooklyn. Actually, I will be spending a fair amount of time there, as I am moving in just next door! Recently I got an apartment in Clinton Hill, near the Pratt Institute, with five other roommates. Should be exciting, collegiate-like, times. The neighborhood is very bohemian. Very diverse. In a word: awesome.

While in town, I had the chance to patronize another apparently semi-famous area restaurant, and, to my surprise, I was pretty disappointed. This place came highly recommended from a friend and when I stumbled upon it in my directionless meandering, I was excited to give it a chance. Here's the skinny:
It's called Habana Outpost, on 757 Fulton Street.
The first thing that will shock you about this place is the set-up. Actually, the set-up is a bit intimidating (I'll get to that later). Forget pretty hostess showing you a table. Here, you walk in to the tiled main room (it felt almost Moroccan with its extensive use of colored tiles), order your food from the wall-mounted menu, pay, and then bring your order receipt to the outdoor seating area to a perpetually parked truck which contains the restaurant's kitchen. A bit unnecessary if you ask me, but cute, and it adds to the DIY atmosphere. Sit down, wait for your food, then grab it from the truck.

The food? Disappointing. The atmosphere? Inviting... kind of.

I ordered a Cuban Sandwich ($7.50), which consisted of roast pork, ham, cheese, pickles, and chipolte mayo on a hoagie. The first shock was that nothing comes with the sandwich. Nothing. Just the sandwich on a paper plate. Honestly, come on. For $7.50, throw me a little rice and beans for christsake. On top of that, the sandwich was nothing to dance over (despite the great Latin tunes playing over the loud speaker). The pork was dry, pretty tasteless, and had an almost tuna fish like texture. It was filler and it was obvious. The rest of the ingredients were standard deli items, decidedly not great quality, leaving me with the unfortunate feeling that I could have made this sandwich just as easily (if not a little better, to be honest) and saved a bunch of money. Even the bread was boring! Toast it, roast it... anything. It was just.... bread. White, plain, boring bread. The sandwich's predominant flavor was the chipolte mayo, which was good. It wasn't great. It was spicy and good (and a complete mess. Bring a garden hose to clean up after this one). To top it off: they were out of their $2.50 draft beers. Goddammit. Even if it was Pisswasser, a $2.50 beer is a thing to be cherished in my book.

Outdoor seating was a welcome change that I eagerly partook in. Sitting beneath the over sized, colorful umbrellas, jotting down notes rather conspicuously, I reflected on how I almost didn't walk inside. This is one of those places where you feel like you need to know what you are doing in order to step inside. It's a tiny bit intimidating. What's with the outdoor benches? Where do I order? Things like that can turn a shy person away. To stereotype, most of Brooklyn is not the type to shy away from the eclectic, so maybe not everybody felt the same way as I.

Overall, this is an alternative to having lunch at a deli. Don't expect gourmet Cuban cuisine. You pay for the atmosphere. Also, don't bring a serious date or a business partner. The food is too messy and you'll probably sweat your balls off outdoors. Pit stains don't help awkward conversation.
The only reason I would come back here is because the restaurant is very eco-friendly and seems involved in the community. I respect that, and even if the food leaves something to be desired, kind, environmentally conscious owners and a friendly waitstaff is enough to get me to come back.

I give Habana Outpost 3.5 Coronas. If I come back, I'll try the burrito and hopefully have a beer.

The Moose

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

DeKalb Was German, But Loved the French

I have found my role model for this blog.

Anthony Bourdain.

Who is he, you ask? Well, let me tell you, on the MattyReed Bad-Ass Index, he falls right underneath Mike Rowe and solidly above that bald guy on the travel channel who eats "exotic" (read: reproductive organs and non-mammalian) foods. He is an unapologetic drinker and connoisseur of the unpretentious. Street food in Mexico? He'll eat it. And smoke a cigarette right after... while wearing a Ramones t-shirt. He showed me that great meals are not found exclusively in red carpet restaurants. You just need to know where to look and go where the locals go. Abhor the convenient.

So why is he my new role model? Answer: he is a traveller, a food critic, and heavily opinionated (and quite intelligent). I consider myself two out of the three (I'm not really opinionated. I just try to come across that way in this blog so you guys have something to laugh/think/scowl about). And if two outta three is good enough for Meatloaf, it's good enough for me.

My point: I am going to try and do restaurant reviews and general New York City living posts for a while. Let's see what happens. My first review:

I spent most of yesterday bumming around the Fort Greene area of Brooklyn, looking for apartments (to no avail). A few of my friends live in the area and after spending a fair amount of time there, I have come to be really quite attracted to the harmonious blend of urban-hipster cafes dotted amongst the plethora of multi-ethnic restaurants. People there seem to want the diversity and really embrace it. Christ, now if that mentality can only spread to the whole fucking world! I digress...
It was around 3pm and my tummy started a' rumblin'. Briefly surveying the area, I spotted a restaurant that a friend of mine had suggested before but I had not yet had the chance to go inside: Le Chez Oskar (211 DeKalb Ave.)

Walking past the outdoor seating (I was already sweating my balls off in the humidity), I headed for the air-conditioned interior and was greeted with a wide open dining room, sporting a dark wood bar and subdued, earthy murals and paintings. With splashes of color thanks to the creative arrangement of red and blue parasols on the ceiling, the waiter on duty told me to sit wherever I liked. I love that. Nothing can bum me out like being placed in a cramped area of a restaurant, just so the patrons are all in one area for the waitstaffs' convenience.
I chose a seat on the side, ordered a Kronenbourg beer from tap ($6... we're in NYC after all) and looked at the menu: a nice selection of salads, crepes, burgers, and a few full entrees. There seemed to be a North African influence in the fare, demonstrated by a few couscous dishes and the presence of spiced lamb (not quite French).
When in Rome... yeah yeah... when in a French cafe, order a crepe. That's the test. I asked the server for his suggestion: ham and Swiss cheese crepe with a bechamel sauce ($8.50). Bring it on.

Wow. These aren't your standard Boulevard St. Germain nutella banana, paper-thin crepes. These were more galette than crepe. A bit more pancake-y, yet still light enough to let the filling carry the flavor. And there were two! I didn't expect that. A pleasant surprise, to say the least. After partaking in the offered fresh cracked pepper, I dug in. Wonderful. It was real ham, moist, and not that crappy, jelly deli, thin sliced ham. The Swiss was not over-powering and seemed to linger in the background, nicely complimenting the experience. I'd almost say the Swiss was neutral, but that would be a really bad joke. Add a perfect amount of creamy bechamel sauce (just a few teaspoons on top, no more), and I had a really great lunch. Just to mix it up, it also comes with a mescalin salad on the side. I could have used a little less of the vinaigrette dressing, as the greens start to wilt from the vinegar over-exposure.

Overall, a great place to bring a date or a business colleague. The interior is conducive to conversation (at least during the day) and with a Curtis Mayfield record playing, I could see myself coming back here often.

Okay, yeah, this is way too long for a restaurant review, but I'm just practicing at this point.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Munching in Muenchen and Picking in Paris

Today I was browsing through a travel related blog site and came across a post claiming to help out travelers "on a budget" in Paris.  I was immediately skeptical.  These are usually preaching to the wrong crowds.  It then went on to give listings of restaurants in Paris where budget travelers can go for budget meals.  First listing for breakfast: Angelina on Rue de Rivoli.

Pure bullshit.

If you want to have the best fucking cup of hot chocolate in your life, go to Angelina.  You will forget your name and all about world hunger.  Starving children in Ethiopia?  I didn't notice.   I was too busy sipping an Olympian nectar.  And it was good.  The catch... it's going to set you back about 7.50 euros.  Honestly, what budget traveler would ever spend 7 euros on a meal, nevermind just hot chocolate?  And that's just the hot chocolate!  What about if, god forbid, you want some solid sustenance?  There's another 7 euros.  You're down 14 euros (adjusting for inflation, about $230) and it's not even 11am.
If you can spend that kind of money, then you are not a budget traveler.

There should be postings like this:
Breakfast:  Go to your local boulangerie (bakery).  Listen to me: don't go to any that are inside of the 1-7 arrondissements.  I know you'll get hungry as you stroll along the banks of the Seine, eyeing the unusually attractive people there, but don't you dare go to a bakery in that area.  If they greet you in English, walk out.  Places like this are all inevitably over-priced and prey on unknowing tourists.  You, however, are an all-knowing tourist.  In fact, you are the Most Omnipotent and Reasoning Of Nibblers.  That's right.  You're a MORON.
Also, don't get croissants.  Yeah they are typically French, and even the French like them, but hey... you're broke.  Get a baguette instead.  Whereas a croissant will set you back about 1.80 euros and is mostly butter and air, and can satiate an Ethiopian chipmunk, you are a full grown 20-something and need some calories to burn.  A full baguette is the way to go.  They usually cost a mere one euro (don't spend a cent more) and it is huge.  Eat half, throw the rest in your bag and munch on it throughout the entire day.  Easy.  
If you happen to find a lucky coin on the ground, consider investing in some cheese (fromage).  The protein will do you good.  Now, most penniless of pedestrians, buying cheese from a cheese store (fromagerie... or something) is more expensive than buying from a general grocery store.  You could get a full block of Brie or Camembert (I prefer Camembert.  It tastes more French) for about 2 euros.  And while it won't be as good as the cheese shop block, it's a hell of a lot better than the crap we have here.  Enjoy it.  You just saved 11.50 euros.

And if we were in Munich:
Breakfast- Beer.  Preferably, Augustiner Helles.  About 1.75 euros gets you a half liter.  For best results, drink quickly.

I might have found my target audience.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

One More Mint Julep

My favorite cocktail at the moment is a take on the Mint Julep:

Rum Julip-
2oz dark rum
cube of sugar
mint leaves

Lightly muddle the mint and sugar in the bottom of a whiskey glass with a small amount of rum. Add ice and the rest of the rum. Stir and serve with a mint leaf garnish.

(Why aren't there more mint flavored liquors out there? A personal quest of mine has been to discover a taste that virtually every person enjoys. Banana? Nope. Coconut? Nah. Mint? It's possible! Somebody get on it.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Seymore Butts Seeks RoomMate

As many of you know, I am room shopping in New York City at the moment. Checking the listings on Craigslist, I stumbled across this one:

It looks harmless. It probably is harmless.

But, check out the address at the bottom:
Seaman Ave and Cumming St.

This sounds like the opening scene of a gay porno.

Viva La France!

Break out your red scarfs and sharpen up the guillotine... it's Bastille Day! The time that we all gather to celebrate the overthrow and subsequent execution of an absolute monarch with parades and violent riots. What better way to show your love for the patrie than torching a parked car or recklessly climbing a national monument while in the nude? And while we stand shouting in the streets, waving the tri-color, make sure to chant that gay tune with those enchanting lyrics, "La Marseillaise":

Arise, children of our country,
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us the bloodied banner
Of tyranny is raised. (repeat)
Do you hear in the countryside
The roar of those ferocious soldiers?
They come right here among us
To slaughter our sons and wives!

For the love of God, take our daughters! But our sons and wives?! Oh the humanity!
I joke. I only joke. We all know that I am quite the Francophile. I would give my first born son in return for another trip to my dear Paris. In case you haven't been there, check out one of my favorite videos of all time:

The name of the film is "Rendezvous". It was filmed in 1972 and is perhaps the most illegal and thrilling joy ride ever caught on tape. The driver covers most of Paris, from the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre to Sacre Coeur. He even at one point tries to make a turn down the street I lived on (Rue Lepic) but has to abort because it is way too tight of a turn (it happens at 6:16 into the video. You can see the Moulin Rouge moments afterward on the right hand side). He nearly kills a few pedestrians, almost slams into a garbage truck... and he even gets the girl. Bad ass.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Goodbye, Blue Sky

So the new direction isn't quite working out. As you know, I am looking to make this blog marketable in some way. In order to do that, I have to have a niche. Naturally, travel seemed like the perfect match for me. It's not.

Dude, I must have spent two hours trying to come up with a new Travel related post today. On top of that, the last one sucked. I was going to write about hostels, and how to survive in them, but really it's all common sense and anything that I have to say would only seem patronizing. I could write about certain sights in certain cities, but there's only so much information that's available inside of my clouded noggin. Yeah, go to Montmartre. Go to the Blue Sky Cafe and have a croque madame et un petit cafe...

It was one of those usual beautiful Parisian days. Sunshine that just warms the skin. These were the sort of days that got my creative juices flowing and inspired me to partake in that most cherished of Parisian traditions: outdoor cafe seating. Leaving my humble apartment on Rue Lepic, near the Moulin Rouge, I head east down Rue Abbesses toward my favorite spot: Blue Sky. That's the actual name. I am not translating it. It's right off the Place des Abbesses, down a winding road dominated on one side by what was once a piano factory but now houses a series of quaint restaurants and art spaces. Making my way past the Tyrolean restaurant with the little dog that scared the crap out of me nearly daily, and past the vintage dress shop, I turn the corner and there it is. Blue Sky is on the corner, and once you reach said corner, you can hear the Cuban music coming from inside. That's a good sign. I'm convinced Hemingway would have eaten here. That's an even better sign.

With a Gene Kelly-like bounce, I tread up the brick steps and walk inside. The place is small, with a little cooking area in the back and mismatched chairs and tables up front. This is not a high-volume operation. This is a gem.

Since I came here every other day or so, the owner and I have a pleasant relationship. I bring my friends with me for late night carafes of some of France's finest and he tosses us some fromage to munch on for free. You will not find that anywhere else in Paris, and I can nearly gurantee that. He values our patronage! What an outlandish proposition.
The owner is a short little bald guy from Madagascar, about 30 years old or so. He speaks English quite well, laughs in falsetto, and is kind enough to humor me when I was looking to practice my deplorable French. He came here to study law, but ran out of money... so he opened a cafe. I'm not sure how that works out, but it wasn't my place to inquire further. What's also great about him is that he knew what I liked. Nothing is more inviting than to have an owner recognize you and ask "the usual"? I love it when that happens, and go out of my way to make sure it does.

The Usual: Croque Madame. A simple French dish that is about the closest one can come to American style breakfast food, though it is not considered exclusively for breakfast here. The dish consists of a piece or two of battered bread, stacked, with a layer of melted cheese and thinly sliced ham in between with a single egg cracked on top. Residual heat from the toast cooks the egg while allowing enough of the runny yummies to spill onto the bread underneath. Salmonella is not spoken of, nor thought of. Cut inside, let the egg run and let the bread soak it up. A wonderful way to start the day... and cheap too! About 6.50EUR.
Give me an expresso with a cube of sugar and I'm all set.

With my meal in front of me, I would usually whip a few pieces of paper out from my ubiquitous man-bag and start writing. Of course, I am using my fountain pen. I'm convinced that the only reason I started writing was because I like my own handwriting and the feel of the smoothness of the flowing ink. It makes me feel colonial in some way. I even added flair to my signature, a la John Hancock. I digress...

Well, actually, this entire post is a digression. But, it serves a purpose: I could write about food! Natalie once told me that I live my days according to the next meal. Why not capitalize on it! I've give it a trial run tomorrow and see what happens.


If you want to see passion, watch Bernstein for the last few minutes of this video.

If Shoshtakovich isn't your forte, try a little bit of the man who I revered as a virtual saint throughout my college years:

Thursday, July 3, 2008

I Want to Be a Part of It!

I've got a job. In NYC!

Dreams do come true!

But. I have that depressing feeling that I am about to wake up from my dream, only to want to fake-sleep in the vain hope that I will slip right back into the old dream. I'm on my way back Angelina... I promise. Just, eh, wait in the jacuzzi.

I am a soon-to-be assistant manager of a Manhattan tea room. Well actually, there are three branches, and I would work in all three. And how appropriate! Throughout college, one of my sort of trademarks was my extensive tea collection (In all honesty, I had way too many teas for a friggin' college dorm. But, it was a chick magnet. I mean, I could have just as well have been a yoga instructor. They like that sensitive/new-age stuff. Right, and I know that... and that's why I am still single...)

This place is really cute. Lots of pregnant moms, old ladies, and hippie artsy types. My kind of crowd (well, sort of. Pregnant moms are all well and good, but they are not necessarily my "thing".) The people who work there seem very friendly and the neighborhoods are generously gentrified. Perhaps the best part is that this is not a "pinky in the air, have The Help hail a horse" kind of place. They are real people, without the Victorian pretensions. And they like tea. *sigh* Quite a relief.

I suppose this will be a nice way to live the NYC life for now.
Long term goals: Graduate school. Short term goals: Sustenance.

Aside: I swear I am going to do more Travel related posts soon. I haven't been writing much lately, so I have to find my groove again. These past few posts are just to get the gears cranking. Stay tuned.