Sunday, June 15, 2014

Drink of the Day: Flying Dog Bloodline Blood Orange IPA

If you're looking for a fruit beer, Bloodline probably isn't for you. It isn't sweet or mild. If you want a fruit-influenced IPA along the lines of Stone's Grapefruit Slam IPA, however, this is an excellent choice. Like all of Flying Dog's beers that I've had, it's fairly strong (7% in this case) but very well-crafted, with enough body to offset the significant bitterness. The orange is subtle - if I were tasting blind, I might not even notice it. It adds a slight fruitiness to the bitterness of the hops, and I like it a lot.

I think Bloodline is seasonal, so you probably won't be able to find it for long. If you drink a lot of traditional American IPAs, this is worth a try for something just a little bit different.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Bamboo Garden (Brooklyn, NY)

Flushing, Queens, used to be the undisputed home of dim sum in New York. Dim sum is a style of Chinese food that involves eating small portions of many dishes. It differs from tapas and other styles of small-plate dining in that you don't order food - there are several carts wheeling around the restaurant, and they stop by your table and you pick what you want to eat.

Most of Queens' dim sum restaurants have either closed or gone significantly downhill in the last few years. My parents and I used to frequent Dong Yi Feng on 37th Avenue, but that too has declined recently. So it's been awhile since I've eaten dim sum. This brings us to last weekend, when Florence and I were staying with friends in Brooklyn. Sunset Park in Brooklyn is rumored to be the new home of dim sum in NY, so we looked up the best places on Serious Eats and decided on Bamboo Garden. Inside, it has the classic look - a huge and chaotic dining hall with many carts, and a stand at the front where you check in and get a number. We only waited about five minutes, which is impressive for a Sunday morning.

As soon as we sat down we were accosted by several carts. In fact, Bamboo Garden had more carts than I've ever seen at a dim sum restaurant - at least five stopped by our table within a few minutes of us sitting down. The weakness of dim sum is often that the food is not too fresh by the time the cart gets to your table, but Bamboo Garden was crowded and the food was flying out the kitchen. Everything was fresh, hot, and very, very good.

The standouts were the tripe and the water chestnut cake cake, both of which were easily the best I've ever had. The tripe was perfectly cooked, not rubbery as tripe can sometimes be, and not funky at all. It was the "white" style (I don't know what it's called in Cantonese) with ginger, garlic, and scallions. The water chestnut cake was the star of the morning - it was piping hot and perfectly cooked. The bottom was pan-fried, which I'd been hoping for, but you don't always see that in dim sum restaurants as it takes extra work from the kitchen. The combination of the crunchy bottom with the jellylike texture of the cake was fantastic.

The only thing that wasn't great was the chili sauce - it was a slightly-alarming bright red and tasted vaguely of chemicals. However, the food was so good that I didn't even miss it.

Bamboo Garden
6409 8th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11220
Expect to pay around $10/person, which is pretty typical for dim sum in NY

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Cafe Kiev (Brooklyn, NY)

Despite how far food in Westminster has come (a tea bar! a place where most of the food is vegetarian! entire restaurants that don't even serve crab dip! real, honest-to-goodness Malaysian food!!!), when Noah and I visit New York we are itching for food that rural Maryland just can't provide. A few weeks ago, we spent the weekend in New York visiting friends and family and experiencing food from cultures we don't come into contact with at home. One of the standout restaurants we visited was Cafe Kiev, in Brooklyn.

Cafe Kiev is a small Ukranian/Russian cafe just outside of Midwood, where we were staying with friends. It's clean and attractive inside--a step up from the slightly dingy holes in the wall that Noah and I enjoy so much. The menu looked great, so we (four people, including our friends) decided to order as many things as possible. At this point, considering how many of them were in the dishes we ordered, it was clear that this meal was brought to us by potatoes.

We started off with a pitcher of Cafe Kiev's homemade fruit punch, which we all diluted with our waters because it was a bit too sweet for our tastes. Honestly, my sweet tooth is not what it used to be, so I laid low on the fruit punch altogether.

The first dish that came out was the herring appetizer, which was served with some lovely creamy mashed potatoes. I love fish, and this was excellent--very delicately flavored despite it being fish and there being chopped onions dispersed around it. I wouldn't have thought to put the buttery, creamy mashed potatoes alongside it, but they went quite well together.

Continuing on the potato theme, next we got their home fries with mushrooms. Now, as an across-the-board lover of potatoes in all their forms, I have to commend these potatoes for their excellence. These little guys were gorgeously friend and intensely addictive, a "burden" I took for everyone since the plate was right next to me. Even when I was full, I just could not stop popping those potatoes into my mouth!

We knew we had to get the vareniki with potato and mushrooms, since it's a very traditional dish and because we just can't resist dumplings in any form. These were very good, but not the star of the meal; as I described it, "they're not bad, it's just that everything else is SO EXCELLENT that they don't stand out as much".

We finished up with two different kinds of blintzes, one with red caviar and one with one with egg, onion, and mushrooms. The egg blintz was very different than the normal crepe-like texture of blintzes: a little sturdier, a little more textured. It was overshadowed, however, by the fact that the red caviar blintzes were the best thing on the menu. The caviar gave this dish a great fishy bite, and we were trying to spread it over every inch of the blintz to make sure that each person who took a piece got some. It was light and savory and delicious, and we left very happy.

The bonus draw to Cafe Kiev is the bizarre Russian pop music videos on a large screen that just happened to be right across from where I was sitting. I think the best thing we saw during this meal was this gem of a video. Enjoy.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Lone Star BBQ (New Windsor, MD)

I love barbecue. Real smoked not-made-in-the-oven barbecue. This presents a problem in Maryland, where 95% or more of "barbecue" has never seen or touched a lick of smoke. One of the few good options, the aptly-named Smokers' BBQ in Finksburg, closed a few months ago, leaving me with nothing short of heading to Virginia.

Enter Lone Star BBQ in New Windsor. It's been open for a year, but Florence and I saw it for the first time passing through town last month. We needed an easy lunch today and decided to check it out. The first thing we saw as we drove up was a smoker out front: a very good sign. Inside it smelled like smoke and meat: another good sign. I was very encouraged at this point, and given the name I went for the most Texas of barbecue I could find: the brisket.

The platter arrived with sliced brisket, French fries, coleslaw, and cornbread. We dismissed the cornbread out of hand as it was wrapped in plastic. I did try it and determined that it was Northern-style sweet cornbread, which was too bad. The brisket was lightly smoky, juicy, and very flavorful. While I like my brisket to be more smoky and somewhat more fatty, this was excellent barbecue for anywhere in the North. It did not need sauce, which is another point in its favor. The fries were thick, hand-made, and very good. The coleslaw was particularly good - extremely fresh, not too much mayonnaise, and not sweet at all.

Would I eat at Lone Star if it were in Kansas City? Probably not. But in Maryland, or anywhere in the Northeast for that matter, it is excellent and deserves to be tried. I'll be going back with friends pretty soon.

Drink of the Day: Boulevard Mid-Coast IPA

I have a soft spot for Boulevard Brewing Company - I lived in Kansas City for two years. (Also, they're a phenomenal brewery.) They don't distribute much to the East Coast, so whenever I see some in the store I snap it up. The Mid-Coast IPA is one of Boulevard's "tasting room" beers, which they recently started selling as part of samplers. The sampler I purchased had the Unfiltered Wheat, 80 Acre (mildly-hopped wheat), Westside Rye, and Mid-Coast IPA. The IPA is likely the best of the bunch, and one of the best beers I've had from the brewery behind Tank 7 and Grainstorm.

Mid-Coast is my favorite kind of IPA: very well-hopped but not too boozy. A lot of strong American IPAs go overboard on the alcohol, up to 9-12%. Not only do I feel like taking a nap after drinking those, they have a hard time tasting balanced. Mid-Coast, by contrast, is well-hopped at just over 100 IBUs, but is under 6% ABV. I feel like I can drink a glass rather than just sip it. It's also not overwhelmingly bitter, even with 100+ IBUs. The hops are slightly floral and round out the beer rather than simply making it bitter. One of the better IPAs I've drunk.