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Posts from March 2014

Shake Shack: Paramus, NJ

  Shake shack burger

The backlash was inevitable, wasn't it?

Whenever something rises to mythical levels, people line up to tear it down. In mobs. Usually on Yelp, and almost always using the curious phrase "over-hyped," which is apparently universally loved by lazy writers, and those who don't understand that some people like things and others don't.

I'm not one to jump on backlash bandwagons, as that type of behavior is for sheep. But after a recent meal at Shake Shack, I can't say that I walked away very excited. Indeed, I may now, as of this moment, be a part of the backlash.

The fries.

Many words have been typed into the internet regarding those twice-cooked fresh-cut fries of theirs. Mostly negative words. It seems that people like the frozen crinkle fries better. I can't recall the frozen crinkle fries from my meals at the original Madison Square Park location, but I can imagine that I would like them better than these here fresh-cut fries.

Shakeshack fries

But, BUT, that's not to say they were objectively bad, or cooked improperly. They were actually executed quite well. I couldn't help but think they would be delicious next to steak au poivre, soaking up some creamy peppery sauce. They'd be right at home on that plate. But next to the burger, for some reason, which I cannot explain, they just don't work very well. Maybe it's that I'm looking for more of a fast-food type of fry. You know, frozen. See, the thing is, there's nothing wrong with frozen french fries--although many will disagree.

Some burger places have taken to offering 2 sizes of fries: huge and extra-huge. The smallest size at Shack Shack is clearly a serving large enough for two people. I would really, really like the option of a smaller order, because the fact of the matter is I will mindlessly eat them all. This is not preferable.

But what the hell is with this burger?

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Blackstone Pizza Oven video: taleggio, fior di latte, sharp provolone, thyme, scallion

Scallion in this case, not chives. Regardless of what the video says.

Chives, preferably, if you have them.

Chinese chives are even more betterer.

Scallions when neither are available.

The Blackstone oven can cook a pizza in under 2 minutes. A relatively inexpensive and simple alternative to a wood-burning oven, for those who are looking for quick cook times.

Nerdy stuff:

  • Caputo 00 flour
  • 62% hydration
  • 3% sourdough starter
  • 3% salt
  • 1 day room temp bulk rise and then 1 day in fridge because it was too excited
  • 4 hours bulk at room temp and balled for 6 hours
  • "Spazz" by the Elastik Band


The Counter: Burgers in Clifton, NJ

Counter burger2

As I sat at the bar, looking around, commiserating with other customers who were feeling just as neglected and baffled as I was, I tweeted:

I was debating whether or not to post about this place. The experience was horrible. The burger, conversely, was quite decent. But now that I see that The Counter extended special invites to local bloggers (and possibly Yelpers), from which positive "reviews" will very likely come (that's the dance, folks--positive press, bought and paid for), I figured it would be a good idea to temper the water with the experience of a paying customer. You know, someone like you. Someone who didn't have special treatment, special access, or free food.

Back to that experience.

I sat at the bar for 5 minutes (I timed it, because I could immediately sense things weren't going to go well), completely ignored by the bartender, who was of course standing only 3 feet away, before I got up to ask the people at the hostess stand if I was supposed to take one of those paper menus that they have there. I wasn't. They gave me a regular menu and I sat back down at the bar. Another 5 minutes went by before I was acknowledged.

"Five minutes, well huh that's not a lot of time, Mr. Important-pants" you say. Any business owner, or business-minded individual, will tell you that 5 minutes (well, 10 minutes in this case, technically), is quite a long time to not acknowledge a customer. At a bar, especially.

A cocktail list exists, which I suppose is a positive, and that was as good a place to start as any to. Yowza. It's populated with concoctions that would be best consumed by 22 year olds. Sweet, horrible-sounding drinks they seemed. The Counter is certainly not trying to appeal to people who are even vaguely interested in cocktails. With the exception, perhaps, of the "Margarita Fresca" (Sauza Hornitos, agave, lime juice, per the menu). Aside from not containing triple sec, and therefore not actually being a Margarita, in the "Fresca" style or otherwise, it was certainly the obvious choice for me, and the best-sounding on the list. I also figured I should watch it being made, just in case things went south. They did.

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Velveteen Rabbit: Las Vegas cocktails


It wasn't but a few years ago when you'd be hard pressed to find many options for decent cocktails in Las Vegas. During a visit back in '09 a friend and I ended up at the bar in the Eiffel Tower Restaurant at The Paris. I think that was the only place we could come up with in that area that had any sort of cocktail program.

Thankfully, this has all changed.  The improbable explosion of new hotels and casinos, and the influx of celebrity chefs' restaurants, have brought with them lots of opportunities to drink very well in Vegas. The Cosmopolitan alone has several great options, not least of all being Comme Ça, which also has an excellent burger I should note. The bar at the Mandarin Oriental is no slouch, and offers spellbinding views of the strip. At the bars and restaurants right off of the casino floor at Aria you will find tequilas and cocktails and glorious fun oh my. If you find yourself at the Paris, skip the Eiffel Tower Restaurant bar and go directly to Gordon Ramsay Steak, for fine cocktails indeed (and, as it turns out, another excellent burger).

This is all well-and-good if you want to drop 14-18 bucks a drink, and putter around the strip. But if you're looking for something a little more low-key, a little more organic, a little more less corporate, a lot more less expensive, then you might want to check out Velveteen Rabbit, in what is called the Arts District, near downtown (old Vegas). A reader tipped me off to this place and off I went.

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You got leftover pho broth? Make: a fish dish


Fish with pho_edited-1
Have you ever found yourself with leftover broth from a bowl of Pho? Probably not. It's a stupid question, and since the foundation of this post is stupid, the entire post may well be stupid. This, you'll note, has never stopped me before.

But sure, you may, at some point in your life, find yourself with some leftover, flavorful, took-a-long-time-to-make, pho broth. Perhaps by accident, due to illness, habitual over-ordering, or maybe if you made a bunch. Especially if you've made a bunch, as I did a few weeks ago. 

I'm not going to delve into recipes for pho, as there are plenty on the internet, but you'll basically need water, some good marrowy bones (like the dirt-cheap "cow bone" I found at H&Y in Ridgefield, NJ), star anise, sugar, fish sauce, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, maybe some garlic, ginger, onions. This is basic supermarket stuff, people.

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Cinco de Mayo: Mexican tacos in Hillsdale, NJ

Cinco de mayo tacos

You're not going to find tacos garnished with lettuce, tomatoes and processed cheddar cheese at this little Mexican hole-in-the-wall. Rather, they will be appropriately topped with chopped onion and cilantro, served with a a wedge of lime, as God and Mexico intended.

Cinco de Mayo is serving, among other Mexican dishes, real-deal tacos. Soft, warm, corn tortillas, topped with a meat of your choice. Choose from a list of about 6 or 7, which includes tongue, chorizo, "salty meat,"  and the I-have-yet-to-try beef head (they didn't have it on my last visit). 

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Hunanese Chopped Salted Chiles: and Fuchsia Dunlop's recipes

When I first made these chopped salted chiles from Fuchsia Dunlop's book Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province, I didn't have much of an idea of how I'd be using them. But salting and preserving food is always a good idea, so off I went. At the very least, I figured, this is a great way to keep "fresh" chiles on hand. Without salting, chiles would mold and rot. The salt allows you to hold them for months.

A few weeks later, they were ready to go, and so was I. Back into Fuchsia's book to see which recipes call for them. Apparently, a bunch do!

Salted red chilesAbout 1 pound of spicy chiles

They've come to be indispensable around here. I made yet another 1 pound batch, since I was going through the initial batch so quickly. A tablespoon here, a few tablespoons there. Months? This jar won't last weeks.

Here are a couple of dishes from the book that were stupid easy (they're all pretty easy), super delicious, and used these salted chiles. You should cook these:

Red braised fish

Red-braised bream (red snapper, in this case)


Fishermans shrimp

Fisherman's Shrimp with Chinese Chives


Home style bean curd

Home-style Bean Curd

Southwest Diner: Boulder City, NV

Southwest diner sign

If you're looking for something to eat before or after visiting the Hoover Dam, you might find that there aren't a whole lot of options. Especially if you wait until you're at the dam to decide that you want to eat locally and not head back to Vegas. Especially since the cell reception in those canyons is spotty. Especially if you didn't do a lick of research at the hotel room prior to leaving, which would have been a great idea, don't you think?

I managed to get enough internet connectivity on a stretch of Route 93 to identify Southwest Diner, in beautiful Boulder City, NV, as a candidate for lunch. Glad I did.

Hoover dam1

First, the dam. I refuse to use the word "damn" in any way in the post, because that'd be some hacky writing. My writing is hacky enough as it is, so I don't need any darned help in that regard.

Hoover dam inside2

The dam is impressive. I recommend taking the 1 hour tour (the longer of the two), which brings you inside of the structure. Our tour guide was fantastic. Very knowledgeable, and just funny enough to keep people interested.

I wanted to get to the Hoover Dam Bypass bridge, which presumably offers excellent views of the dam, but I didn't have time (had to get to the diner, you know). But I'd suggest trying to make some time to fit that aspect of the visit as well.

As many have noted, you can drive over the dam to the Arizona side, and park for free. Or you can pay on the NV side, right before the dam.

Back to the food. 

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