January 26, 2013
January 24, 2013
Everything moves on, everything ends, everything commences again.
Fine -- I'll try not to get all teary-eyed and emotional as I write this, I'll try not to sound like a graduation speaker, but it's not easy. Dorm Room Dinner has been at the center of my life for nearly three years now.
And now it's time to graduate.
Take it as a good thing -- it's just time to move on. We can't all bundle up in our dorm rooms forever, drinking beer and writing about mayonnaise and smashing cupcakes with hammers. Everyone goes off into the real world at some point. A blog is no exception. And this is an exciting time, a new beginning, a fresh start, a new loaf in the oven, this is going to be as fresh as baby greens, tender as spring lamb! This is exciting!
As many of you know, I've been working at CookNScribble producing the LongHouse Food Revivals, a series of gatherings of food thought leaders across the US. I now live in Brooklyn, write restaurant reviews for the Brooklyn paper, and cook in my walk-up apartment. A new city and a new life deserve a new blog.
And so I'll now be writing at my new blog, Under the Egg. It's based on my life post-graduation from college, and I'm very excited about it. I hope you all will join me there.
And thank you all so, so much for joining me at Dorm Room Dinner. It's all you, my readers, that keeps the wheels turning on this, that make this so fun and engaging and exciting.
Hope to see you next door at Under the Egg.
Posted by Will Levitt at 11:28 AM
January 1, 2013
It's that time of year, when everyone makes lists from 2012. I ate some Oscar Dogs, helped bring together some great minds in food at FOODSTOCK and the LongHouse Food Revival, ate yet another best-meal-ever at Arthur Bryant's BBQ, drove from Boston to Austin fork in hand, and traversed the streets of New York searching out the tastiest bites.
Here are my top 12 favorite food moments, in no particular order.
Also, check out my favorite bites around Brooklyn for 2012 in the Brooklyn Paper.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Here are my top 12 favorite food moments, in no particular order.
Also, check out my favorite bites around Brooklyn for 2012 in the Brooklyn Paper.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
1. Oscar Dogs and Super Tuesday Super Burgers
This year included some American standards -- hotdogs and hamburgers -- in very non-standard form. The year started off with a bang last February with Oscar Dogs, 9 hot dogs inspired by the 9 nominees for best film at the Academy Awards, and was followed shortly after by Super Tuesday Super Burgers, 9 burgers inspired by the Republican presidential nominees.
2. Okonomiyaki Party at Wesleyan
When I was little, pancakes for dinner were the best. You know, like, the best. Well, it turns out, they still are -- particularly when you make them Japanese-style. Okonomiyaki are a savory Japanese pancake, often filled with vegetables like shredded cabbage and scallions and seafood like shrimp. My favorite part is finding inventive toppings for the pancakes. In place of maple syrup, these guys get topped with chili sauce, peanut sauce, mayonnaise, soy sauce, plum sauce -- you name it. They also make for a perfect, informal dinner party food.
3. LongHouse Food Revival
This summer, I began co-producing the LongHouse Food Revivals with Molly O'Neill and CookNScribble. These gatherings of food thought leaders take place in barns, include a top-notch list of speakers, and are accompanied by some seriously good eats. There are plenty more coming up in 2013, so keep your eyes peeled (and your minds and stomachs as the ready)!
4. Pasta Pizza
I already brought you the pasta sandwich, but baking pasta onto a pizza might be even better carb-on-carb. It's baked pasta you can eat like pizza.
5. Crazy Hat Sandwiches
Damiano and I continued our sandwich stand Wesleyan's Farmers Market. We also eventually gave our little operation a name: Crazy Hat Sandwiches. While the venture ended after we graduated in May, the memory of one of my favorite sandwiches still lingers long after, our mofongo sandwich, filled with fried plantains. I'll miss Wesleyan, and I'll sure miss those sandwiches.
6. Arthur Bryant's BBQ, Kansas City
Both my parents are from Kansas City, and I've been eating at Arthur Bryant's BBQ for as long as I can remember. Every meal this is a memorable meal, but one in particular, shared this summer with my grandfather, siblings and cousins, was particularly significant for me. The best KC BBQ beef in the world, the tangy, vinegar-spiked sauce, the perfect fries, the sweet sliced pickles, the towering cups of lemonade and the great company and the timeless setting make this a highlight of 2012. But to be honest, Arthur Bryant's would probably make my list every year.
7. Calvin Trillin Reading in NYC
Many writers have been influential to me as a food writer, but Calvin Trillin ranks among the very top. With his endless wit, his unceasing hunger and his keen insight into the way America eats, he helped set the standard for modern American food writing. This fall, I saw him give a reading in NYC, where just hearing his words made me hungry.
8. Popovers, Jordan's Pond, Maine
The Jordan Pond House in in Acadia National Park in Maine has a full menu, and everything is good. But everyone in the know understands that you really go for one reason: the popover. Eggy, rich and filling, this steaming snacks are best eaten with a healthy slatering of butter and strawberry jam. One will never do, and making it out having eaten less than three is a challenge.
Before producing the LongHouse Food Revival, I was an organizer for FOODSTOCK, Wesleyan's first, and quite fabulous, food writing conference. We had an all-star cast of speakers including Molly O'Neill, Ruth Reichl, Eric Asimov, Dorie Greenspan, Sara Kate Gillingham Ryan and many more. Food trucks, amazing seminars, a pop-up book shop and more made this a one of a kind conference.
10. The Great American Road Trip
I documented part of a road trip I took this summer from Boston to Austin (and back again) via New York, Detroit, Chicago and Kansas City. The open road and a tour of American regional food at its best (and most buttery!) were just a few of the highlights from this great, American road trip.
11. Hunting for good eats in NYC
Every walk down a street in New York City is a chance to come across some fabulous food. Here, 6 dumplings for $1 in Chinatown.
12. Crab Ring Mold, 1942-Style
This summer I made my grandmother's recipe for crab ring mold, an old school recipe complete with gelatinized crabmeat in thousand island dressing. It's an interesting food, and as unforgettable in 2012 as I'm sure it was in 1942.
Posted by Will Levitt at 3:26 PM
December 23, 2012
Alex and I were sitting at the long, white-topped bar of Little Serow in Washington, D.C. and the fried tofu was so damn spicy we were no longer able to carry on our conversation.
"This is nam tuk tow hu," said our server, a young woman with thick rimmed glasses and a darling white summer dress splotched with red and blue, "it means 'running waterfall,' because it is so spicy, you will sweat like a waterfall."
We smiled and thanked her. Nothing so far in the set, seven-course, $45 tasting menu had been as terrifying spicy as the online reviews had mentioned, so we weren't too worried. This is, after all, a Thai restaurant run by white people.
"Got it," we said, picked up our chop sticks, still smiling, and dug in.
"And be careful," she added, "because the dish becomes spicier and spicier as you eat it."
Five minutes later, we were no longer smiling.
The first bite had not been so bad, a well-seasoned mouthful of salty fried tofu, mint, cilantro, red onion, peanuts and an oily sauce which spoke of exotic chilies but not of the wrath of Satan. A second bite brought on more heat but was still manageable. But the spiciness grew, slow and steady, like a tidal wave. Five bites in, we were sweating, red in the face, unable to complete sentences, and chugging our beers for relief from the pain. But it was good -- so good that it proved difficult to stop eating, yet so painful that it seemed unreasonable to go on. Masochistic tofu if I've ever seen it.
It gave me pause, after the plateful of hellishly addictive tofu, that the experience we were having had something to do with more than just tofu. We'd eaten sour fruit, dried shrimp and palm sugar. We'd had pork with lemongrass and sawtooth. They were all good, and all drew from Thai tradition. But it seemed, more than anything, that this tofu was Little Serow's way of showing its muscle, taking out its Thai passport, and saying "Yes, motherfucker, this is for real. You sweating now?"
It reminded me of a conversation between Eddie Huang and Francis Lam published on GiltTaste. The two immigrant sons debate what it means for Americans (white Americans, really) to cook the food of foreign cultures. Huang takes issue with the cultural appropriation he sees in American-run ethnic restaurants, while Lam finds the complexity of immigrant cuisines in America too complicated to throw blame in any one direction.
It was a new experience, to say the least, being served hot-as-hell Thai food ("We focus on Northern Thai food, similar to the food of Laos," our server had specified) in downtown D.C. by a cast of charming white girls, surrounded by D.C. political staffers just out of work on a Friday evening, in a room with pastel-blue walls and modernist restaurant design, sipping an American craft beer.
Is there something wrong about this?
It was a Thai restaurant as far from Thailand as you can get - geographically and spiritually - serving what it claimed to be the most authentic Thai food around. Excuse me, Northern Thai food, to be exact. Not dissimilar from Laos. It seemed to be shouting, "See! If it's this spicy, it's legit."
Legit or not, Litte Serow must be called, at best, a restaurant borrowing from Thai tradition. It's awkward at times -- it's a phenomenon we see in restaurants popping up across the country -- but not an unfamiliar cycle in American food. Little Serow's food is always what American food -- food served in America -- has been: borrowing from other cultures, recreating, adapting, improving, mellowing this time, spicing the next time, at times for better, at times for worse.
And this is where American food, and America, finds its culinary strength. It is where the undefined "American cuisine" has always been well-defined, hiding in plain sight. America is still the great melting pot. The insalta mista. The great vegetable tofu curry miracle.
Thai food may be the food of the moment, but that we're grabbing onto new cuisines, new cultures, broadening, expanding, finding Americans making Thai food, finding Thai immigrants making American food - that is nothing new. Italian food was "ethnic food" a hundred years ago. Americans were literally afraid of garlic. Pizza was borrowed from Italy where it was a food of the poor in slums around Italy, a simple creation of dough with tomato sauce. It came to America, it changed over time. Today, pizza is American as apple pie.
Today, Thai food, like many "ethnic" cuisines, is growing up in America too. It's awkward, we're afraid of cultural appropriation, we're blaming the hipsters, we're blaming capitalism, and yet we're still eating the masochistic tofu. That's just as well. We're still eating pizza, too. Thai food as part of American cuisine isn't going anywhere. Get it while it's hot.
Posted by Will Levitt at 2:36 PM
December 14, 2012
It has been a little quiet around here, but fear not! I've been busy scribbling in my reporter's notebook all over Brooklyn for some new material.
Top two photos by Stefano Giovannini, bottom photo by Elizabeth Graham, for The Brooklyn Paper
Here are 3 recent article I wrote for The Brooklyn Paper. Read 'em up!
When life gives you Ethiopian lemons, make lemonade! Sam Saverance moved to Africa with a background in design and development, and hoped to start a business incubator there — but failing that, he started an Ethiopian food pop-up in Brooklyn [read more...]
With a blood-orange facade and Edison-style bulbs hanging inside rusted industrial whisks in the tall and welcoming front windows, the decor of the new Neapolitan pizzeria Krescendo in Boerum Hill is much like the joint venture that brought it to life — a combination of old school Brooklyn and authentic Italian passion [read more...]
You know you prefer a Pinot Grigio to a Chardonnay, but do you know your favorite varietal of olive oil? A new olive oil shop O Live Brooklyn has bottles lining its shelves and sitting in crates like a liquor store, and the owner hopes enthusiasts will be talking about extra virgins like they would a single malt or an old Bordeaux [read more...]
Posted by Will Levitt at 3:57 PM
December 9, 2012
|A gas station in Louisiana, 2011.|
Enjoy, you quick-tongued cooks and pancake-flipping poets.
A Supermarket in California
by Allen Ginsberg
What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for
I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache
self-conscious looking at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went
into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families
shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the
avocados, babies in the tomatoes!--and you, Garcia Lorca, what
were you doing down by the watermelons?
I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber,
poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the
pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans
following you, and followed in my imagination by the store
We strode down the open corridors together in our
solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen
delicacy, and never passing the cashier.
Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in
an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the
supermarket and feel absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The
trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we'll both be
Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love
past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher,
what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and
you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat
disappear on the black waters of Lethe?
From Collected Poems 1947-1980 by Allen Ginsberg, published by Harper & Row.
Copyright © 1984 by Allen Ginsberg.
Posted by Will Levitt at 5:38 PM
December 4, 2012
Last night, after meeting my cousin in the West Village for dinner, I came away with the thought that the best thing I'd had that night was toast topped with potatoes, melted cheese and prosciutto. Talk about a balanced diet.
Fine, I'll admit it. This season has been a season of indulgences -- food wise at least. I've been giving into fat. I've been cooking with butter. I've been eating a lot of pork. The night before Thanksgiving the dinner I made included both buttermilk biscuits with sliced country ham and a soup with pork lardons. And that was the night before Thanksgiving for God's sake!
When given the option, I order "with cheese." Need I mention my favorite food?
I've been craving carbs like a pregnant woman craves chocolate. And I don't even like chocolate. If that Atkins thing catches on again, I'm screwed.
Whole loaves of bread with a short, square stack of butter have become my companions at NYC coffee shops. Pasta, per usual, is my go to dinner when nothing else comes to mind. Eggs on toast for breakfast -- the toast being key.
I'm not sure what it is about this year that has turned this kale-loving-kid into a grease feind. I still eat lots of kale. But as soon as I feel I've reached my vegetable intake, it's right back to the fat. What harm could a small piece of cheese do? A big piece?
Perhaps its the oncoming cold, which does drive us towards richer, more filling foods. At Wesleyan, where most of my friends were vegetarian, cooking vegetable-filled meals was the only option. But New York opens up a world of possibilities. And some of those possibilities have 29% of your daily fat intake in one serving.
But there are some dishes that are healthy, vegetarian and hit all the right spots (filling, rich, satisfying!) without breaking the caloric bank (not that I'm counting...).
The rest of the world seems to have caught on to wholesome grains in a bigger way than the Uunited States has. Quinoa, farro, cous cous, barley and bulgur wheat are just a few that come to mind, though none are staples of the American diet. A few weeks ago I reported on a warm barley salad. I made that again for Thanksgiving and I think it caught on. So this week, I thought I'd try another warm grain salad, this time with farro, beets and yogurt. What I love about these is they're a meal on their own, but also work well as a hearty side -- to accompany cheese, pork and bread.
Warm Farro Salad with Roasted Beets, Leeks, Orange and Yogurt Dressing
Serves 4 as a main