Category Archives: Things I Did Not Cook

Sesame Rice Balls

Anyone who’s known me long enough to engage in a discussion of favorite foods (on average 10 minutes) has heard me wax evangelical about my favorite dessert: sesame rice balls in warm rice wine soup. They’re a sleek rice skin expertly stretched around a ball of sweet black sesame paste, bobbing with grains of sweet rice in a sweated rice wine broth. To someone who hasn’t grown up with these, a description of the flavors and textures might not make sense. I’ve found it easier to just introduce friends to this dessert in person. The little dumplings are sweet, nutty, liquid, chewy, and earthy; the broth is sweet, sour, floral, fruity. Even people who think they don’t like sesame are pleased to meet them.

There’s a long story about my love for these dumplings: our first meeting, a tragic restaurant closing, loss, despair, rediscovery, redemption, renewal. But really, all that matters is that I know where to get them again after a few frantic months of searching. Now all I want is to introduce as many people as I can to the sesame rice ball experience, if only to have company while I eat mine.

Sesame rice ball in soup (wine flavor)

Shanghai Cafe
100 Mott Street (bt Canal and Hester, New York NY 10013, (212)966-3988

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Filed under review, Sweets, Things I Did Not Cook

St. John of Bleecker Street

New York pizza is always good. Yes, even the greasy slices you can get all night on the Lower East Side, even the pizza from the hordes of places called Ray’s, all claiming to be The Original Ray’s. Plenty of New Yorkers are devoted to one or another of the pantheon of coal- or wood-burning classics, like Totono’s or Patsy’s or Lombardi’s or Grimaldi’s. And plenty of New Yorkers just love it all, devoting themselves to pizza like they expect divine illumination to beam down upon them when they’ve finally sampled every pie in the city.

I’m not one of the pizza devout, though I rarely miss an opportunity to partake of the precious wafer. I’m more of a casual believer with strong leanings towards Totono-ism (it’s in Coney Island, mecca of the curious) and a particular affinity for the gospel of John’s. Ian and I stopped in Tuesday for a sausage and garlic pie, just early enough to avoid the inevitable 8pm line at the door.

Our booth was flanked by Swedish tourists on one side and German tourists on the other. The rest of the diners were young New Yorkers, except one older man dividing his attention between pizza and a book. Generations of pizza pilgrims have carved initials, rough hearts, and dates into the wooden booths and walls, and in the front room, most of the light comes from the red neon sign in the window. While we waited for our pizza to arrive, we recognized most of the songs playing: Elvis Costello, The Rolling Stones, The Ramones, and David Bowie’s cover of Jonathan Richman’s Pablo Picasso. That’s all I remember because once pizza appeared on the table, I had no attention for anything but the task at hand: to pick up a slice and gnaw my way from point to crust.

The pizza at John’s is a careful balance of textures and flavors, like all pizza should be. The coal-oven crust is crisp yet flexible, there’s enough tomato sauce to help the crust go down but not enough to make it soggy, and there’s just enough cheese to hold it all together. The sausage was tender and pleasantly spicy, and the fresh chopped garlic generously distributed. Something about this pizza is deeply satisfying, if understated. It’s a comfortable food, and because it’s so well-made, because all parts combine into such a cohesive whole, it lets you forget to analyze flavors, and instead you just enjoy a great pizza. Really, I think this is the secret goal of making pizza, to touch those feelings of comfort, history, youth. There’s a deeper mystery involved, I’m sure, but I think that’s part of why we all love pizza so much.

John’s of Bleecker Street

278 Bleecker St
New York, NY 10014
Phone: (212) 243-1680

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Ted and Amy Supper Club

Last Friday I traipsed through the streets of Fort Greene, Brooklyn looking for a private residence in which to have dinner. I chose a likely-looking home and just walked in, then waited for the residents to cook and serve food. They seemed happy to oblige me and the other people who’d had the same idea, and we all had a lovely dinner with eleven strangers. How is that even possible, you ask? Through the magic of the Ted and Amy Supper Club, is how.

I had read about things like this before – the underground dinner clubs, occasional restaurants, and speakeasies hidden in plain sight all over the city, revealed only to those who knew their secret. Finally attending one was at the same time the fulfillment of a mysterious quest and a friendly evening of good food and good company. I saw the Ted and Amy Supper Club mentioned in an article in Edible Brooklyn, and since I love its namesakes, I had to check it out.

Kara and Adam, the founders of the supper club, cook a meal in Kara’s apartment for 12 guests, a mix of their friends and strangers about once every two weeks. This time the menu was Italian, specifically Olive Garden-themed, since both Kara and Adam have culinary roots in the popular chain. The food gave a good-natured jab to the faux-authentic restaurant (Adam picked up salad dressing and unbaked breadsticks from OG itself), warmed us up with stuffed and grilled calimari, then justified our love for pasta with two flavorful, well-balanced courses: the first, a short rib ragu over pappardelle, and the second, penne with vodka sauce. Dessert was a light, well-executed (neither too boozy nor too dry) tiramisu. I’d describe how good it was, but I think the picture speaks for itself.

Over the summer, Adam says they plan to do more grilling in the tree-lined backyard, and I can’t imagine a better way to spend a hot city night. There’s an easy sign-up form on the website if you’re interested in attending, and once you secure a seat, you’ll receive an email with the exact address of Kara’s lovely apartment. Invite yourself over for dinner – they’ll make you glad you did.

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Filed under Meat & Fish, review, Things I Did Not Cook