Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Cronut®

One milk and honey with lavender sugar Cronut® —
wait, is that a piece of mouse poop?

In preparation for my last routine visit to NYC, I started thinking about what I wanted to eat, as usual, about a month in advance. The Cronut® entered my mind, where the thought festered and pestered until I just had to figure out a way to try the highly hyped-up pastry I had already deemed overrated. It didn't make sense to chase an item I was cynical about, but just like pro-athlete salaries and people who enjoy snow, a lot of things in life don't make sense.

At 11am EST one Monday morning, I dove headfirst into a fierce online competition to claim a limited number of Cronut® preorders. The site was fussy ("Do I reload and lose my place in line, or do I wait? Dear God, what do I do?"), but by 11:07am EST, the site was sold out, and I was the proud owner of six fresh Cronuts®, to be picked up two weeks later within a one-hour specified window.

This is already getting ridiculous. Let's back up.

Them's the rules.

Since the Cronut® was "invented" and patented by Dominique Ansel Bakery in SoHo, the demand has been sickening, often resulting in six-hour lines outside of the bakery. There's a litany of instructions called Cronut® 101 that those lucky enough to behold one must adhere to. Consume within a few hours. Do not refrigerate or freeze. If you must cut, do so only with a serrated blade.

The whole thing is a real eye-roller, like so many things in that city are.

Everyone from Vice to Eater has weighed in, so it seems moot to devote time to the subject now. The main reason I'm slaving away at the keyboard is the high hopes of cashing in my clout with some sexy SEO action. You see, Dominique Ansel is trending this weekend, even more than usual. And it all has to do with a mouse in the house. 

I had pests in every apartment I lived in in New York. Mice — and roaches — are a part of life. In a restaurant I worked at two blocks from the river in Philadelphia, the cheeky fuckers would occasionally dance across customers' feet as they dined, prompting us to comp meals, but instead of profuse apologies, we usually just sort of shrugged — there was only so much you could do.

I did not work in a dilapidated shithole. I assure you that many, many popular restaurants in these cities deal with the same issue, it just comes down to who gets caught. When some ass posted a video on YouTube of a single mouse darting around the kitchen at Dominique Ansel, prompting the Department of Health to jerk its knee and shut the place down, the future of the Cronut® was all of a sudden lurched into uncertainty. A product of the ubiquitous phone camera, the new sport of restaurant pest-spotting is sweeping the nation with nausea. I miss the days of ignorance, don't you?

Now-ironic message on the chalkboard

I shouldn't care. I don't, actually. (See comment above about going for at least third-page Google results with this shit.) The Cronut® is an intricately layered pastry, and the painstaking effort that must have gone into its development is apparent. Still, it was somewhat difficult to bite into, the cream filling was overkill (a donut–croissant hybrid should be rich enough in my opinion), and the lavender dusting smelled faintly of old people. Perhaps worst of all, I had trouble unloading them on my friends. "No," they said, "you've waited far too long; I couldn't possibly."

I wondered what would have happened if I had left this box of Cronuts® on a park bench somewhere.
Would it have made front-page news?

While I have a thing for portmanteau, the name Cronut® seems far too cutesy for a pastry so regal, so special, so lavish. I think, overall, that croissants might just be better as croissants (unless it's a City Bakery pretzel croissant). But at $5 a pop, I can say I ate one before the Cronut® bubble burst. Before the place was shut down because they evidently found mouse crap everywhere. Before we all got too grossed out to eat outside of our home kitchens anymore.

Until last week, the most sought-after six pack in the country.

Update: Two days later, MY Cronut® photo shows up in the 30th row of Google images!
Sweet success.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lansky's Pizza Pasta & Philly Steaks


4601 S 50th St (at L St) 
402-731-1919 — put this one on speed dial (people still do that)
Open daily 11am – 9pm or something 
Plus locations in Bellevue and Council Bluffs

Sleek font, sloppy food

Imagine waking up in a parallel universe, where animals can talk, the cab company doesn't suck, and your neighbors champion really disgusting foods. For one of those scenarios, you don't have to imagine anymore — you can just go to Lansky's. 

We were bumbling around near 50th and L when hunger struck and a quick consultation with the smartphone (93% on Urbanspoon!) ultimately pivoted the car into the parking lot. At first, it seemed Lansky's had the makings of something good. The awkward layout and quaint-yet-hideous interior all pointed to the idea that the food's too good to be bothered with atmosphere. A sign at the translucent iceberg lettuce salad bar read, "One trip only, please." I felt that was legitimate, that the owners are too busy quietly turning out Omaha's best pizza to be bogged down by unnecessary salad costs. The aroma of the place even reminded me of the neighborhood pizza joints I terrorized as an adolescent. (The reader has been reminded that I grew up on the East Coast and am therefore an absolute authority on most things, including all types of pizza.) Tables started to file in with subdued excitement, placing their orders at the counter and then plopping down on the salmon-colored padded chairs, sipping from styrofoam cups and chatting about all the joys and hardships of being a South Central Omahan while nonchalantly waiting to have their minds blown by the best food on the planet. 

No, I don't do food styling: the Philly cheesesteak with wayward onions and peppers

But no. Just, no. With the food on the table, and the shock of its appearance faded ("It could still be good!" I screamed in my head), we dug in, only to be met with hopelessly poor quality — it was in-your-face cheap. The Philly cheesesteak bun tasted like a knockoff of something you'd find at a church spaghetti dinner, and as a whole, the sandwich had an off-putting flavor; I think the mass-produced "American Swiss cheese" was the culprit.

Then there was the pizza. Piled with pounds of tasteless cheese and pepperoni, the spongy crust was the color of pasty legs in winter.  I thought it might just be undercooked, but it became clearer and clearer that another few minutes in the oven wouldn't have done much for this heap of shitty ingredients. In one final attempt to reconcile my hunger, I pulled back the inch-thick inedible layer of toppings and pushed it to the side, folded the white, doughy, sponge square in half while it oozed yellow oily matter, and gulped it down. I cursed myself for not stopping at Casey's General Store instead. I thought about the last time I had DiGiorno, and how it's only $4.99 for a pie. I wondered why I put myself through this. 

The pepperoni pie:
It's true I loathe the party cut and toppings under cheese,
but what I loathe more than anything is a bunch of Sysco-sourced ingredients masquerading as something good.
I'd say it's more in line with school cafeteria quality, but I wouldn't want any children eating this.

By now we all know the internet is riddled with untruths. But studying the restaurant's red hot glowing diner reviews online is more than puzzling. It makes me feel like there's something wrong with me. If this is it, then what am I doing? Why am I here? What's the point? Am I trapped in a dystopian novel? 

The way people feel about Lansky's makes me think it's me against the world.  




Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Salween Thai

1102 NW Radial Highway
402-884-5375
Open Mon – Sat, 11am – 9pm, closed Sun
Facebook 

Rad Nat with chicken ($6.95):
The menu said it had gravy, so naturally I had to get it.
The gelatinous, spicy sauce jiggled delightfully from the plate to my face.

It could be the exotic sounding name. Other Thai restaurants in town like Bangkok Cuisine and Thai Spice play it dismally safe in that department. I'd venture to say that nestling itself an arm's reach from both Benson and Dundee doesn't hurt, either. Or maybe it's that the parking lot is so challenging to get to from the northbound lane of Saddle Creek, that simply surviving the fight to get there feels like you've earned the right to partake in a rewarding indulgence.

All of those things, and also that the food is usually pretty great, make up the reasons why 30 minutes before closing on a recent Monday night, every single table in the place was occupied — with a high percentage of cool-looking people, nonetheless.

Boat rice noodle soup with pork ($6.95):
Rice noodles, meatballs and sliced meat, bean sprouts, cilantro,
and gailan (I think that's like Chinese broccoli).
Flavorful and warming, just like its better-known counterpart, a bowl of pho.

You won't find neatly trimmed, lean meats, or too much universally boring brown sauce. I like to think Salween is one of the portals to true ethnic cuisine in Omaha, though I've never been to Thailand — or even befriended any Thai people, for that matter. I probably couldn't pick the place out on a map (kidding). Point is, I can't masquerade as an expert. But I do know that the adjacent specialty grocery store, where many of the restaurant's ingredients are most likely cultivated, intensifies the legitimacy of the whole place.

Spring rolls were filled to the brim with snappy veggies
and an occasional shrimp.
Curious upright presentation was a bonus.


Dipped in spicy orange sauce this is a refreshing way to start the meal.
Fixin's for the noodle soup in the background.

In lieu of describing this particular meal in detail, since so many of us have already been here a bunch, here's my lowdown: all of the curries are fantastic, most likely the best in town. Last fall, a disappointing, gross experience involving overly mushy, coagulated noodles on the Pad See Yew nearly cost the restaurant a lifetime of my valuable patronage. But now I'm back, and I'm ordering the Rad Nat, courageously staring any sort of jelly-like texture right in the face. I'm slurping on my dining buddy's noodle soup, complete with the "teaspoon of blood" as dictated on the menu, and I'm chomping on a round of girthy spring rolls wrapped in extra sticky rice paper. It's an adventure in spices and textures, people. And surely, you're up for the ride.

All of that said, don't go here to dine in if you're in a hurry. Just don't. And don't mind the fact that the single-room, open floor plan makes you feel like you're in some sort of weird cafeteria/living room hybrid. If you want a giant Buddha fountain (all Eastern religious figures are Buddha to me) to distract you while you eat, go to Brooklyn.

Thai tea provides a little cool-off so you can properly handle a proper spice level 9.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Good Day Sacramento

Today I think I did a decent job pretending I give a hoot about football in favor of pimping our city out on oh-so-exotic Californian network TV. Thanks to Good Day Sacramento for caring and to Peyton Manning, whoever that is.




Thursday, January 30, 2014

Chinatown

3720 Leavenworth Street
402-342-3068
Open Mon – Thurs 10:30am – 10pm, Fri & Sat 10:30am – 11pm, Sun 11:30am – 10pm
Delivery with $10 minimum
chinatownomaha.com 
China Town on Urbanspoon

Signage that suggests they've been around since at least 2001,
plus the Marylebone in the background and Mother India in the distance,
making up the culinary corridor of Leavenworth Street.

I used to pass this place on Leavenworth without looking up. I hadn't given it more than one or two subconscious, dismissive thoughts that didn't even come close to making it to the forefront of my mind. I fully assumed, based on location, signage, and the fact that no one I know ever mentions it, that it was simply not for me. The sauces would be syrupy and sugary, nearly undigestible. The meats would have a freezer-burned aftertaste. The vegetables, questionable, and the rice, dry. It might as well have had bullet proof glass dividing the kitchen from the outside world. (I'm not claiming to be some tough bitch or anything, but there are a number of take-out joints in Philly like that.)

Point is, there are a lot of bad Chinese places in town, kids. Watch yourselves.

Little did I know, the grease pool forming while taking this
photo nearly cost me my zebra print tablecloth.

It's true that the first time I ate food from here I woke up twice during the night, too thirsty to even consider a glass, going straight for the faucet while cupping my hands. That's likely more due to the fact that I not only "tried," but pretty much finished two whole entrees. A double dose of sodium will do that.

Let me walk you through that evening.


#C15, Kung Pao Chicken Combo Platter
First, when I ran into an acquaintance on the street, I felt compelled to say I was simply going for a walk, instead of "going to gorge myself at that guaranteed disgusting Chinese place directly behind us." With that major bullet dodged, I entered, placed my order for two at the counter, Facebooked in the corner of the dingy, gray dining room, and quietly collected my brown paper bag after a short eight minutes.

The Kung Pao chicken seemed, as a whole, undercooked, with veggies still too snappy and peanuts somewhat slimy and raw. The lo mein had a sorry vegetable variety, limited to poorly cut carrots, broccoli, and cabbage. I piled it all on one plate and couldn't quite discern the differences in flavor of the two. The egg roll, with tiny bits of minced pork inside, was insanely greasy. I thought about a future devoted to improving temperature control of commercial deep fryers as I ate it, slowly, intense and immediate guilt forming with every bite.


#39, Vegetable Lo Mein 

I vowed to never go back, knowing full well I would because it's convenient, and probably soon.

The second visit, which happened to be on Christmas, provided a feast fit for a holiday absent of city bus service: General Tso's chicken swimming in a luridly sweet, addictive sauce, served with another egg roll I swore I'd throw away and instead munched on once it had chilled off a few hours later. A small order of broccoli in spicy garlic sauce (because it's important to get your veggies) actually had some spice.

These days, instead of dismissing this restaurant whenever I pass, it conjures thoughts of semi-enjoyment, of retiring early for the evening surrounded by an assortment of little white boxes. In this, my fat person fantasy, I never forget to ask for chopsticks.


Chinatown is not good food by any conventional measurements, but if you order carefully, you might just come away satisfied. Suggested strictly for delivery on a crappy weather day, I say get your usual Chinese dish and see how it stacks up against the likes of nearby Rice Bowl and Three's Happiness, two also not very good restaurants. Who knows — you might be pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Frank's Pizzeria (and other thoughts)

711 North 132nd Street
402-493-0404
Open Mon-Thurs 11am-9pm, Fri & Sat 11am-10pm, Sun 3pm-9pm
franksnewyorkpizza.com
Frank's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon


One time we ordered a bunch of Frank's at work. It lasted five minutes.

As I sat today compulsively wringing the excess cream cheese from my jalapeño popper before submerging it in a ranch bath, anticipating another just sorta decent pie at Frank's, I thought I'd weigh in. The Omaha World Herald recently named Frank's one of the three best pizzas in Omaha, specifically dominating the "less fancy" category. I found that interesting because I've eaten at Frank's four times in the last two months, but not necessarily because I love it. A more accurate description of why I make the trip Out West would be that I don't regret it. It's not bad by any means. It's just not that great.

Frank's is decent, but this pile of raw onions and
floppy sausage, combined with the wonky pizza cutter work,
sort of beg the question,
"What the heck is going on here?"
The cheese, sometimes with a grainy quality, often comes not melted enough -- it's definitely not the bubbling, browned appearance desired of New York-style pizza. In fact, both the sausage and onion on today's pie were curiously undercooked. The crust, however oven charred on the bottom it may be, somehow manages to reduce to a soggy state within minutes. A "best pizza" title holder might want to address this major structural flaw. It flops under the weight almost immediately.

Still, for the most part, Frank knows what he's doing. Overall, the assemblage of dough, cheese, and sauce tastes good enough to come back to, though I can't quite explain why.










Brick Oven likes to serve slices with an unusual 90° angle.

If you're looking for another New York-style option, try Brick Oven. Concealed in the shadows of Nebraska Furniture Mart, this pie -- available by the slice -- has a much sturdier and more flavorful crust. I can't vouch at all for consistency (one time I had to leave behind a mangled pile of stringy cheese and chewy sausage on the plate) but on a good day, it might just be better than Frank's. Plus, the place reminds me exactly of the mom-and-pop pizza joints I grew up eating at, save for the zealous owner/operator behind the counter who might be overbearing or just extremely passionate about his brand.

I'm partial to New York-style because I grew up with it. But I like Neapolitan. I like Sicilian. I'll own up to my vices and admit I even have a soft spot for total junk food Godfather's garbage when the time is right. Mostly, though, I'm a sucker for a timeworn recipe, or at least a healthy fervor for the craft of pizza making that doesn't wane after a few years. I think that's what makes a good pie, no matter what your style preference may be.

Consider the gallery below for a few other good ones in town:

A recent gut busting cheesy favorite,
albeit with an unimpressive crust
considering the owner's penchant for baking,
is the meatball pizza at Nicola's in the Old Market.

(UPDATE: A more recent visit revealed an herby, buttery,
flavorful crust. I stand corrected.)

Tasty Pastry serves personal sized pizzas on the cheap.
Here, atop an absolutely delectable, chewy crust,
are Brussels sprouts, pecorino, brie, bacon, and onions.

This is what Baxter's in Benson looked like when it first opened:
I'll trade you a sloppy pile of haute toppings
artfully made from local ingredients for a crust that's not corrugated cardboard.

This tasty jalapeño bacon slice illustrates the progression
of working out the recipe kinks at Baxter's. Cheers.  

Denying yourself a Dante pie because you're
repelled by its unfortunate location would be a shame.
The "Amore di carni" is a love worth dying for, even if that's just a
cheesy claim meant to convey that this
Neapolitan-style pizza is really effing good.

More Frank's

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Fat in Philly: Syrenka Luncheonette

A proper golumpki.
We called 'em holubky, the Slovak name, growing up.

This is without a doubt the worst time of the year. With the days still getting shorter, and a 30-degree forecast looking balmy, the light at the end of the tunnel is far too faint. If you're anything like me and loathe winter and all the restrictions it brings, you, too, will benefit from the comfort of minced meat wrapped in cabbage leaves covered in tomato sauce, potato-and-dough dumplings sauteed in butter and slathered with sour cream, and cakes of shredded potato, fried to crispy-edged perfection.

Should you be the brave one to enter the kitchen with the expectation of delivering some sort of joyous meal for your family members this holiday season, I'd recommend taking a cue from everyone's favorite up-and-coming Europeans, the Poles. It's a story told here through the eyes of the busty and beautiful mermaid Syrenka, who swam from Warsaw to Northeast Philadelphia with a desire to serve cafeteria-style, satisfying meals to working class East Coast a-holes some time ago.

Potato pierogis, a thing of beauty and butter.

Oh, when chilled applesauce meets
the steaming hot, chewy center of a potato pancake.

Syrenka Luncehonette is located in the Port Richmond section of Philly at 3173 Richmond Street. Everything's cheap. Cash only.