Ordering Taiwanese: 'I'll Have The No. 2'

I accidentally came upon a blog post about a rather unappetizing theme restaurant in Taiwan that I thought I'd share.

If you can come up with a great headline for this post, please leave it in the comments!

Review: 5 Napkin Burger

In 500 words or fewer

5 Napkin Burger
45th Street at 9th Avenue, New York, NY

(Note: I did not take this photo. It came from a Flickr account called "Eating in Translation.")

The Scene: 5 Napking is in Hell’s Kitchen, but for all intents and purposes, it’s in the Times Square area. The dining room is large and spacious. It’s dark and a little noisy, but not deafening. Booths give diners both room enough to move around and privacy from others; a few traditional tables dot the floor, so be sure to request a booth.

Reservations: The restaurant takes a limited number of reservations with the rest of the spacious room left for walk-ins.

Bar: The bar area is small, so don’t realistically expect to wait for a table here.

Menu: Despite its appearance, the menu is small. On the menu, there are a number of things that I totally dismissed, such as a sushi list. It’s my feeling that sushi should not even be offered at a restaurant called 5 Napkin Burger. I also dismissed at least one starter (Vietnamese summer rolls) and several entrees (spaghettini and omelet Florentine). There are seven burgers, but I wouldn’t order the veggie burger because it is completely unspectacularly adorned (sauce, pickles, lettuce, tomato), and I would be hesitatnt to order the Ahi tuna “burger” as it is really just Ahi tuna on a roll with some Asian accessories, like wasabi mayo.

This leaves five choices: the Original 5 Napkin burger (carmelized onions, comte, rosemary aioli), cheddar bacon burger, Inside Out burger (no bun, wrapped in lettuce), lamb kofta burger, or the Italian turkey burger (frightening concoction of tomato sauce, vinegar peppers, and mozzarella on a sesame egg bun). They all come with fries, and the fries are thin and delicious.

Food: I split an Original burger ($14.95) with my sister, which meant I did indeed venture into eating beef for the occasion. I also ordered a side salad, which looked like one cup of pre-bagged mixed lettuce dressed with oil and vinegar. I also ordered a side of baked beans that perhaps were Bush’s canned baked beans.

The bun was the tastiest part, shiny with egg on the outside like a perfectly baked loaf of Challah. The onions and comte cheese were very good. The beef patty itself was hefty, though over salted. And the price was a little high.

Finally, the beer menu is something to behold. It’s not a masterfully crafted themed list, but it does offer an astounding variety by the bottle. Many beers I had never heard of before and were from microbreweries in the U.S. Belgians made up about half the list. None of the imported bottles were bargains, but out-of-towners experiencing New York for the first time and pressed to eat in the Times Square area would be pleased with the selection.

[Read the update, June 30, 2009, in which a manager of 5 Napkin Burger writes me a letter, to which I respond.]

The New York Restaurants List

I've added a list of New York restaurants where I'd like to eat to the side of this blog (see at right). If you have suggestions for additions or comments on the places already listed, please let me know by using the comment section on this post.

I've also added a list of places in New York where I recently have eaten; see further below on right. Comments?

Postcard from Long Island: Tim’s Shipwreck Diner (or 'Otto's')

I grew up on Long Island, and one of my favorite places to hang out is the harbor village of Northport -- and my very favorite place to eat there, and perhaps my favorite place to eat on all of Long Island, is Tim’s Shipwreck Diner.

It used to be known as “Otto’s,” but Otto needed to retire (or partially retire, as he still can be found from time to time working the front of house or clearing plates), and his son Tim took over. My family and I interchangeably call it Otto’s, Shipwreck, or Tim’s Shipwreck, but never simply Tim’s.

What I like about Tim’s (that was pretty cheeky, eh?) is its balance between tradition and inventiveness. The food and atmosphere is, put simply, satisfying. It’s a classic diner, like the railroad car diners of yore, but instead is shaped like the inside of a small ship, which fits the marine mood of the tiny town to a tee. Some of the servers (mostly the adult waitresses) are lifers -- come in frequently enough and they’ll know you by name. Come more than just occasionally, and they’ll call you honey and ask how your mom/sister/uncle Arty is doing.

Upon being seated, if you’re not given a complimentary plate of the sweet corn bread and homemade berry jam, ask for it! Every so often Tim’s Shipwreck runs out of it, but if you see other customers eating it, you’ve probably just been overlooked and should pipe up. The jam in particular is not to be missed, and the combination of the two together is delightful.

Don’t expect to find anything on the menu that drifts too far from the typical arena of diner food, but do admire the daily specials for their ability to reinvigorate classic dishes. On a recent visit, for example, my mother was scanning the omelet list, and nothing on it really excited her. Then she saw on the specials board a ratatouille omelet. It was a done deal. Home fries and toast rounded out the meal for about $7.

Sweet breakfast options are equally inventive without being risky. Pumpkin pancakes are a staple in the autumn months. Stuffed French toast with bananas, and homemade cheese blintzes are two other dishes that frequent the specials board. Savory brunch-goers are faced with tough options, choosing between omelets that are donned with hunks of sweet Italian sausage or a breakfast concoction that somehow manages to work in a serving of homemade chili.

At times, the potatoes have been limp and the jam can taste a bit cloying, but these things are worth overlooking for the otherwise fulfilling experience.

Read local newspaper reviews of the diner, which are plentiful, but dismiss the warning that you might wait an hour for a table. It’s just not true. A 20-minute wait isn’t unheard of for a reasonably sized party of two or four, but an hour is an exaggeration, especially in the warmer months when plastic porch furniture opens up extra seats in the back “garden.” (I prefer to sit inside year-round. I find the back alley to be a little cramped.)

Postcard from Cooperstown, NY, and Brewery Ommegang

Three things make beer taste better: being unfiltered, bottle fermentation, and high alcohol content.

American beer drinkers, or at least the vast majority of them who make up focus testers, are obsessed with “purity.” They think something is wrong if their beverage is cloudy, and as a result, the beers produced in the U.S. are almost always filtered. As a result, its flavors are dulled. And like milk and cheese, beer in the U.S. is also pasteurized, another step in the process that often sacrifices flavor for perceived safety. However, while pasteurization is legally required, filtering is not.

Look into a Belgian beer bottle, on the other hand, and you’re likely to witness a miraculous dance of particulates in suspension, and therefore richer and more complex flavors and smells.

There are very few breweries Stateside that go against the grain, and Brewery Ommegang is one of them. I’ve only been drinking Ommegang beers for a year or two. For the most part, it makes Belgian-style beers, particularly its namesake abbey-style beer. The brewery, which opened in 1997 but was recently bought by Duvel USA (Duvel was also an original investor, according to Wikipedia), is located in upstate New York, about a four-hour drive from New York City, just south of Lake Otsego. The region is also home to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and when I realized that, I set my mind to taking a mini vacation and seeing both in one short weekend.

Boyfriend (like how I protect his identity in that photo?) and I headed up on a Saturday morning, arrived in the afternoon, zipped through the Baseball Hall of Fame -- a static and forgettable museum charging 16 bucks for very little -- and reached Ommegang by 3:30, which was plenty of time to take a look around, have a few tastings, and buy way more beer and beer accessories than we probably should have before closing time at 5:00.

The brewery is really just two barns with a couple of huge tanks both inside and out. On site, the beer is brewed, bottled, and aged, with the exception of one beer variety selected annually to be cave aged in nearby Howe Caverns. Unlike the chalk caves of France, Howe Caverns are limestone and lie about 100 feet deeper in the earth. But they both are extremely regulated climates and dark, which is ideal for aging champagne, wine, beer, and cheese.

We got the free “tour” of the brewery, but the employee showing us (and about 30 other people around) seemed like she had had enough for one day and was shouting out her spiel by rote, making it hard for me to tune into what she was saying. I know not all the carbonation happens in the bottle, but the final fermentation is always done in-bottle. I know that the beers are flavored with a number of different spices, including West African grains of paradise, coriander, and star anise, but I wasn’t able to follow which beer got which spices, though some of them you can tell by taste.

After the tour, there is a free beer tasting. We tried the Witte, Rare Vos, Hennepin, Abbey, and Three Philosophers, all of which I’ve had previously except the Three Philosophers and Rare Vos.

We bought a case of 750ml bottles: three Wittes, three Hennepins, three Rare Vos, and three Abbeys for about $66, or about $5.50 per bottle. In the grocery stores, a bottle of Witte or Abbey can go from $8 to $12, so this was a good deal for us. For $30, we significantly beefed up our specialty beer glass collection with six new additions (technically, five new additions, as one of the glasses was a gift for friends).

Here are some notes on the beers.

Beer Notes
Ommegang Witte was recently ranked (2008 World Beer Cup) number two of all wheat beers. An employee at the brewery, upon telling us this, added, “We see it as an honor to be second to Hoegaarden,” which she correctly pronounced WHO-garden, leaving me in a little state of glee.

I wasn’t always a fan of lighter beers, but Hoegaarden helped me expand my horizons, and now I love the Witte. It’s refreshing and crisp, and goes well with summer outdoor foods, like grilled chicken, souvlaki, or salads, as well as German foods, like sausages, sauerkraut, or even just a simple hot dog. You can drink it with a slice of lemon, though a slice of orange is preferable in my opinion, as the beer is flavored with orange and coriander.

Hennepin is my least favorite of Ommegang’s year-round brews because it’s very hoppy (I prefer malt flavor to hops in darker ales). Hennepin is a Saison ale, so it’s technically amber in color. If you like hops, this is a great beer, with a lot of structure yet blended flavors. Only the hops are really assertive, but then again, I might feel that way because I’m not especially fond of the hops.

Rare Vos and Hennepin both collect sediment at the bottom of their bottles. Although a friend of mine lectured me once about being careful not to drink the sediment (“It’ll give you the runs!” he warned), the employees at the brewery said go ahead and drink it. One of the beer’s sediments -- and I forget which one -- actually contains a fair amount of potassium and other vitamins and minerals. Stephen Beaumont, a beer book writer, is quoted on the Ommegang web site for advocating the inclusion of some of the yeast sediment in a pour of Rare Vos, saying it intensifies the spices while mellowing out the beer’s sweetness.

The Ommegang Abbey Ale is the darkest and most intense of the four beers we brought home. This is not the kind of beer you want to drink when the weather is warm. To me, it’s a holiday beer, or at the very least a cold weather beer, as is Chimay Blue. It’s a sipping beer or an accompaniment to food. Witte is really the only Ommegang beer I would drink on its own. Even the Rare Vos requires some snacking to balance the strong flavors (cheese, fruit, charcuterie, crusty bread, olives).

Another beer that the brewery puts out all year long, but which we did not tote home with us, is Three Philosophers. Three Philosophers is a very strong beer, weighing in at 9.8% alcohol. But it’s not 100% beer -- it has cherry lambic (kriek) added.

Drink Up
The biggest reason for me to drink Ommegang beer more regularly than imported Belgian beers or even German ones is that it’s brewed in the same state where I live, meaning it’s less expensive and has a smaller carbon footprint. On the other hand, the brewery imports its 750ml bottles from Europe, so there is still trans-Atlantic shipping involved, which I’m not thrilled about.

‘That Champagne Will Cost You An Eye’

‘I’ll take it’ — A Traumatic Day Ends in Bubbles

On Monday, I had a rather traumatic day.

The previous Saturday, I bought a half bottle of Veuve Clicquot brut (Ponsardin, non-vintage).

What Does One Have to Do With the Other?
One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2008 was to buy and drink one relatively expensive bottle of wine, in the $50 range. Drinking a nice bottle of wine didn’t sound like a horrible thing to put on my to-do list, so I made a mental note of it and the next time I passed by the wine shop (which is suspiciously right next door to the bank), I went a-looking.

The half bottle was about $26, and Veuve Clicquot is a label I’ve been curious to try for some time. I brought it home, stashed it in the fridge, and decided that if an occasion to drink the wine didn’t present itself by my birthday, well, bottom’s up then.

An opportunity did present itself.

My Summer of Doctor Visits
I almost never have to see doctors. I am in very good health and I see an OBGYN annually like clockwork. This summer, having relocated, I had to find all new doctors, and a few of them wanted me to come in needlessly “just to be sure” everything was fine and dandy.

First, one doctor wanted to test all my hormones levels. Everything was normal.

Then another wanted to check out my cholesterol, iron, and whatever else doctors routinely measure in blood. Normal normal normal.

Another doc sent me out for two ultrasounds. All my parts were there, and they all looked normal.

Another one wanted to cut off and inspect two freckles. Normal.

The dentist told me to floss better in the front, then rescheduled me for a cavity filling. And at that point I said, “Enough already! No more doctors this year.”

Then, Monday morning I woke up and my eye hurt. This was not normal.

It felt like something was in there, like a really big eyelash. I checked, but there was nothing. I rubbed it. I flushed it. I put drops in it. Nothing changed. It still hurt.

If I leave it alone, I thought, maybe it will just go away.

A few hours later, I was flushing the eye again and icing it. Boyfriend shone a flashlight in there (or what the British would call a “torch,” which sounds so barbaric in this context) and said he couldn’t see anything either.

Some of the details, I’ll spare. But finally around 3 o’clock, I was at an ophthalmologist’s office. He looked in my eye and said, “You’ve abraded the hell out of your cornea.” Then he flipped my eyelid inside out and announced, “No wonder you’re in pain. You have a piece of metal in there. It looks rusty, too.”

There was a numbing eye drop involved, some prescription anti-inflammatory stuff, and a “contact bandage,” but all those things don’t hold a candle to the moment when he plucked a rusty piece of metal from the inside of my eyelid.

O the relief!

And yet, a list of unanswered questions began to accumulate, and at the top: “How the hell did I do that?”

Back at Home
“How the hell did you do that?” Boyfriend asked.

“I don’t know.” I still don’t know. “But you know what I do know,” I said to him. “We’re drinking that freaking champagne tonight to celebrate the removal of rusty metal shards from eye lids.”

I feel like I worked for that champagne.

What separates the Veuve Clicquot from most other sparkling wines I’ve had is the complete absence of an after-taste. It was deliciously crisp but mild mannered, like a firm pear, and very effervescent.