Postcard from New York City

Pizza, hot dogs, bagels, and mammothly enormous cookies. This is New York City, you're listening to PRI, Public Radio Inter--oh crap, I'm actually NOT supposed to be typing what I hear from my podcast.

I know, I know--where IS that cookie from?! Levain Bakery is on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and ever since L saw the owners on Throwdown with Bobby Flay she's been meaning to get over there and try what the New York Times called "the largest, most divine chocolate chip cookies in Manhattan." We tried chocolate chip and dark chocolate chocolate chip, and each could have easily substituted as lunch. Talk about filling! Apparently the genii behind Levain are two triathletes who conjured up the gigundo cookies as the perfect carb-loaded snack. Don't forget butter-loaded, ladies. We ran into one of the two owners in the teensy bakery as she rolled a tray full of bagel-sized globs of dough onto a cart. I almost shoved her out of the way and fled with the dough, but then I thought better of it. I imagine that would have embarrassed my hostess.
Levain Bakery, 167 W. 74th Street

On to brunch, which we actually ate BEFORE the cookie--but I'm going in order of importance, here. I briefly couldn't remember the name of this place, so when I Googled "new york brunch wait on line" it actually came up in the Maps results--how about that? Good Enough to Eat is a blast. The food is delicious, it's well-priced, and it's very New York. You and your party wait on a civilized line outside, and a lady walks up and down asking how many are in your party. When a table for 3 showed up, we were waltzed past parties smaller and larger into the restaurant and to our table, which was meant for 3 and only 3. That means a table of 2 that was further ahead in the line would NOT be seated there. An interesting concept, I know. J's pumpkin bread french toast will make you swear off the "traditional" stuff for the rest of your life; the helpings of pear compote on the dish will make you check your watch--yes, it is morning, and yes, it seems like you are eating a most decadent dessert. Still, it's not quite as decadent as the "Peter Paul Pancakes," which feature Belgian chocolate and toasted coconut. Leaving my traditional omelet behind, I tried the Turkey Hash--roast turkey, potatoes, red peppers, carrots, celery, two poached eggs, and a biscuit. It encompassed everything brunch could and should be. Vegetables, protein, eggs, carbs, it was all there. The vegetables were so well-seasoned and perfectly cooked, a real feat considering the amount of droopy looking sauteed veggies I've seen in my day. And the butter, OH the butter. GETE serves strawberry butter that is like icing. You will want to dip into the butter ramekin with your spoon, bypassing the bread completely.
Good Enough to Eat, 483 Amsterdam Avenue

Listen, NY has some of the finest restaurants in the world, but when you're strapped for cash and it's a beautiful day, you have to do the grab-n-go style of dining. And Papaya King can help you out. Turns out that the Papayas (Dog, King, Gray's) are not related, much to my chagrin. I'm so chagrinned. Anyway, there's something about these dogs...they are thin (puny-looking, but delicious, I swear) and the skin is crisp, which makes you want to eat three of them. I don't care for the combos with the fruit juices and all that, but a couple of dogs suit me just fine.
Papaya King, 179 E. 86th Street

So sure, make your fancy reservations and spend a zillion dollars on your trip to New York. Or grab a cookie the size of your head and walk it off through a weekend flea market, where, thanks to skipping the white linen tablecloths, you can treat yourself to some earrings.


Kabob Bazaar and Boccato

Kebob. Kebab. Kabob.

It's a beautiful thing, however you spell it.

You could throw a rock at this place from the Clarendon Metro, but don't--throwing rocks is mean. How about this: you could give a friendly wave to a colleague sitting at KB from the Clarendon Metro escalator.

From the outside, it doesn't look like much. No flashy lights or fancy awning. But no summer passersby can overlook the plethora of outdoor seating. When all the bastions of mediocrity (Whitlow's, Boulevard Woodgrill) are stuffed to the gills, do your party a favor and lead them to Kabob Bazaar.

If you're at a place called "Kabob Bazaar," I recommend you get a kabob, even though the menu is rather extensive. Combination kabobs are your best bet, so the indecisive (Hi!) can try more than one meat. I loved the Chicken Soltani, one skewer of chicken and one of kubideh, which is a kabob made of ground beef or lamb (sometimes a mixture of both) mixed with onion and spices. The 'bobs were laid atop a big flatbread that was good for wrapping around the kabob or just noshing on plain. I find ground meat very comforting, and the whole feel of the combo platter made me feel as if I was eating in someone's home. The dish was well-seasoned and very filling. The portions are very large, so if you control yourself you can have ample leftovers for tomorrow's lunch. Splitting an appetizer will further that goal, so try the grape leaves or hummus.

When you leave, if somehow you have room for dessert, stop by the new gelato place, Boccato. I had to look it up to find out the name, because to me and J it's just "the gelato place that is attached to the Latin market and looked like it was half-open for a few weeks," and that's just a nickname. The flavors are homemade and they rotate, and you can even write on the list of suggestions. The place is like a sauna, so get your gelato and head back outside. So far I've enjoyed oreo biscotti and pomegranate. We were achin' for frozen desserts in Arlington after Lazy Sundae left and even Ben & Jerry's (ugh) closed shop.

Kabob Bazaar
3133 Wilson Boulevard
Metro: Orange Line to Clarendon

Wilson Blvd, near the Latin Market, across from Whole Foods



I always yak about how I want to go to Poste, and I want to go to Proof, and I want to go to Cork, when Poof! Yesterday, my best friend took me to Proof. And I'll definitely be returning.

First of all, I was able to make a reservation for 2 on OpenTable just 24 hours in advance. Good luck going to Central or Zaytinya on that timeframe--ain't gonna happen, folks. With 2.5 Stars from Our Hero, it's an obvious choice for a post-work meet-up. And with AVAILABLE SEATS, you can't really go wrong. I've degressed. Enough.

T started with a cocktail called the Heretic--I believe it contained at least strawberries, basil, and jalapenos. I know, who would drink that? T would. I had the Rosé du Jour. I don't know what it was, but it was great--T hit the nail on the head when she said the following pearl of wisdom: "Some rosés taste like whites with a little bit of red--this tastes like red with a little bit of white." So true, and that's what made it yummy. It didn't taste watery or washed out, it was just right the way it was. Glasses of wine at Proof come in 2 oz tastes, 6 oz, or 8.5 oz for a regular "glass." They are priced accordingly. Go ahead, and try a bit of 6 different wines! You can't be stopped! You're an animal!

The cheese options looked great, but ladies watching their figures will save the calories for a shared dessert. To start, T and I split the sautéed veal sweetbreads. I'm personally not afraid of sweetbreads, and tried them for the first time at Citronelle (generally not a bad place for a "first taste"). These had a much different texture, reminding me more of a seared scallop than a soft cheese. The combination of black pepper, spinach, dates, and bacon with the sweetbreads was a sweet/salty/smoky fiesta on my tongue, complete with party favors and those little pointy hats. According to Tom's review, the flatbreads are tasty. T and I just couldn't justify playing it safe (Mediterranean flatbread anyone?) when we had the opportunity to try something new. Our server said the braised little meatballs are also delicious, but not as interesting as what we ordered.

Dinner brought the roasted Alaskan halibut with caramelized sunchokes, glazed rainbow carrots, and almond mint pesto for T, and let me tell you for her, it sounds a lot more exciting than it really is. It's not that it didn't taste good, it was acceptable. But the fish was naked. If she wasn't getting that dish, I was sure to order it because the phrase "almond mint pesto" is like music to my ears. I LOVE pesto. I LOVE mint. But alas, the veggies were sort of dull and brown-looking, sitting under the naked fish while a few swipes of the yummy-sounding sauce tracked the plate. A bit bland for an otherwise funky place!

My dinner was delish. I had the crispy panko chicken breast with lemongrass jasmine rice, napa slaw, roasted peanuts, and Thai salsa verde. To me, the rice didn't really have a place on that plate. I would have preferred a crunchy or otherwise green vegetable to go along with that chicken. The chicken was sliced but then reassembled so I didn't even realize it was already cut for me. How thoughtful, Proof! It was moist, with a bit of a crunchy outside, but not at all greasy like typical fried chicken. I really enjoyed the salda verde, but there wasn't enough! Again with the stripes of sauce! I definitely don't want my dish to get soggy with sauce, don't get me wrong, but it was a lot of chicken and just two skinny lines of the very interesting salsa verde!

For dessert, T and I shared the goat's milk cheesecake. No, this was not a commercialized cheesecake of yore, conforming to a triangular wedge of tasty yet boring redundancy. It was in a mid-height round glass, and had the thinnest lacing of tartness on top (was it raspberry?), just beneath a soft top layer of what tasted like softer and unsweetened graham cracker crumbs. To appreciate the tiny tart layer, we dug in deep with our spoons. By the way, we used our baby spoons that came with our espressos, because if even one of us used the enormous spoons they gave us (think "big spoon," not proper dessert spoon) we would have finished in a bite and a half. Totally obscene spoon size.

Decor at Proof is interesting. The red bathroom walls are patterned with black boustiers and fishnet-clad gams. The toilets are the tiny metal ones you'd find on an airplane. And the heart-shaped mirror made me laugh.

Although our server was top notch, the two hostesses were chatting with each other and neither bid us adieu...
775 G St NW
Washington, DC
Metro: Red, Green, or Yellow Line to Gallery Place/Chinatown or Red, Orange, or Blue Line to Metro Center
Proof on Urbanspoon


Postcard from Paris

In the beautiful city of lights, J and I found many of our meals at takeaway windows--sandwiches on baguettes, fresh hot panini--and ate them sprawled out in one park ("jardin") or another. When the weather is fair, I recommend following each meal with a 15-40 minute nap on the grass. I'll give you a few names of good spots for the times you aren't at the takeout window.

Arnaud Delmontel, 39 rue des Martys: Some say that this boulangerie and patisserie has the best macarons in the whole city. I agree. With 12 available flavors, these little thin crispy cookie domes filled with a light, ganache-like mixture will torment your waistline. Luckily, one or two can satisfy even the most extreme chocolate craving.

Higuma, 32 rue St. Anne: Recommended by several guidebooks as a cheap eats haven, this Asian hotspot is teeming with locals. Although it's known for the dumplings, we had a set meal that included a crunchy salad with tasty ginger dressing, miso soup, and rice bowls with chicken or beef.

Kastoori, 4 place Gustave: An uphill stroll from most everywhere, Montmartre is like a tiny charming town within a city. In a cute little triangle of mostly outdoor eateries is Kastoori, an Indian restaurant with a bustling patio. We shared the thali du jour and thali vegetarian. The former included a raita, kebab, tandoori chicken, pallak paneer, biryani, and cheese naan. The thali vegetarian had raita, samosa, pallak paneer, vegetarian curry, rice, and more delicious naan. The three typical sauces (you know, green, red, and other) were awesome. The typically sweet dark reddish sauce was VERY sweet, but in a good way, and the green mint sauce was a great foil for the spicy chunky pepper "other" sauce. The cheese naan, or "naan fromage" was divine--if only all naan was filled with fine French cheese.

Cafe de l'Homme, : For J's birthday we splurged on a place that is known for its view, not the cuisine. We liked our meal, and stuffed ourselves accordingly, but reviewers are harsh on this restaurant. Honestly, they could have served us dirt on a plate, and somehow watching the sun set around one of the most magnificent structures in the world would make that dirt a delicacy. We enjoyed the seared foie gras with apple froth, lamb with pureed potato and goat cheese, swordfish with grilled eggplant,creme brulee and a tarte tatin

My advice: Drink a lot of French wine and eat fresh baguettes. To fit in, a baguette should be sticking out of your backpack or purse at all times.