Monday, November 26, 2007


Doubles are largely unknown here. It's not surprising, there are probably only a few restaurants in New York that serve them. In Trinidad, though, they are everywhere, and are one of the most pervasive street foods on the island. A double is two pieces of deep-fried chickpea batter, with curried chickpeas inside. That's a lot of chickpeas. The key, though, is the chutneys and pepper sauce that are put in the double. A nice, fresh double with a spicy and tangy filling will bring tears to your eyes. If you've had chole bhature, it is very similar, except the flatbread it is on is much thicker.

Legend has it that doubles were originally a single piece of bara (the chickpea patty), with the curried chickpeas on top, but one kid insisted that two pieces of bara be used to make a sort of sandwich. The "double" option became popular, and this dish was born.

A little while ago, my friend Shantanu and I ate at A & A "'D' Original Doubles Shop". Read the 'D' as a Trini "the". It was cheap, I think $1 or so per double. It wasn't as fresh as you get in Trinidad, where they often fry it up in front of you. But, it was reasonably fresh. And it was delicious! It really doesn't look like much, and it's a complete mess to eat, but that's just the way doubles are.


I'd mention that if you are in Richmond Hill you should go eat there, but let's face it: people don't just pass through Richmond Hill all that often. Either you live their and already know it, or you are going to eat some Trinidadian or Grenadian food. Well, if you do, stop by and get a double before your meal, and make sure to put extra chutneys and pepper sauce on it.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Mama's Coal Pot

I'm going to slightly deviate from the subject of this blog to write about a St. Louis BBQ joint I recently ate at. I saw it after eating with my family at Blueberry Hill in the Loop. Actually, I smelled it long before I saw it, and when I saw the little BBQ shack with a very interesting menu, I knew I had to try it.

Mama's Coal Pot
Menu at Mama's Coal Pot

There are two interesting dishes here, at least. The first is snoot, which is a St. Louis local dish relatively unknown in the rest of barbecue country. Snoot is pig nose, by the way. The second are rib tips, which I've never seen before either. This was all very exciting for me, so I went back another day and tried them both out, of course.

A few days later, I went back, taking with me my friend Joel.


The snoot was coated in a delicious barbecue sauce. It came with some white bread on the side. I picked some snoot up with some bread, and gingerly nibbled on it. It appeared to be nothing but bone. However, I knew it was edible, it was really just cartilage. So I put that snoot between my molars and bit down as hard as I could. It gave a satisfying crunch, and I just continued crunching through this piece and then doing the same to many other snoots I had. The snoot itself didn't have a lot of flavor. It was mostly texture with a coating of barbecue sauce. I liked it, and would order it again, but it's a bit much for one's only lunch item. It'd go better as an item in a large BBQ spread.

While I was eating, the owner came up and chatted with us. He told us all about snoot, and how in "soul food" you eat every part of pig, "everything except the squeal". I said I was also interested in trying rib tips, and he was kind enough to give us a fair portion of that too.

Rib tips

The rib tips were excellent. This had some actual meat, which was flavorful and a bit fatty. I highly recommend this for those who like ribs.

So, Mama's Coal Pot. If you are in St. Louis and want a unique St. Louis-style barbecue treat, head on over there! And finding it is easy, just walk around the Loop and follow your nose.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Fake truffle oil

I found a recent New York Times article on fake truffle oil very enlightening. I truly had no idea that truffle oil was not made from truffles. I'm sure that many restaurants are abusing it, but one of the worst offenders surely must be Hell's Kitchen's Roberto Passon.

Although, if I have to admit it, I'd say that the truffle oil does add an interesting flavor to a dish. I've never been to France or Italy, so I've never had a truly fresh truffle to compare it to. A previous article I've read claimed that the furious competition for truffles has led to premature harvesting of truffles, with the end result being that even fresh truffles in France or Italy aren't what they used to be. Really, it's better to do without an ingredient than to have to fake it. I think the NY food scene can survive a lack of truffles. I think our cuisine can only improve by relying on native ingredients. Our high end restaurants should be serving huitlacoche, not truffles.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Burmese Cafe

Back when I lived in the Bay Area, my wife and I were friendly with a Burmese woman. When I moved out, I gave my bike to her son, and she invited me over to eat dinner. She had cooked a few dishes, and they were mind-blowing. The flavors were so strong, my mouth was overwhelmed with the wonderful full salty taste of dried shrimp, garlic, shallots, and herbs. The combination of flavorings is very distinctive to Burmese food, but is fairly close to Malaysian.

Recently, I went to Burmese Cafe in Jackson Heights a few times. I was fairly impressed. Many of the dishes there were as evocative as that Burmese meal I had in California.

The last time I went was with my friend Ben. We started with fried zucchini, something I wouldn't normally order. However, it was surprisingly light and tasty, especially with the very fragrant dipping sauce.

We also ordered the dish that seems to be mandatory for this restaurant: the fermented tea-leaf salad. The taste of this was out of this world. When you eat it, it initially comes on strong, with a somewhat subdued Burmese taste, but the aftertaste has the mustiness of the fermented tea leaves lingering. The textures of this dish was also interesting, since the dish had an unusual amount of crunch to it, mostly due to the many bean sprouts involved.

Because we wanted something else unusual, we ordered a curry with goat heart, kidney, and liver. The offal meat was good, but the curry didn't have any particularly interesting flavor. Still, it was a nice change from our other dishes.

I've also had the Sorrel Leaves (not pictured), which were a small, enjoyable little vegetable dish that has a classic Burmese flavor. Speaking of vegetables, though, this place was not very vegetarian friendly. Fortunately for us, we weren't vegetarians. But almost every dish had fish sauce. While they may have been able to make it without any, the taste just wouldn't be the same.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Map of interesting New York restaurants

For a friend who is coming to visit, I made a map of some interesting places to eat. Many of the places have pointers to reviews on my old blog. I'm sure I'll be expanding this map with more interesting dining options.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Resting Hot Chocolate

I've read in several different places, that it is better to leave hot chocolate overnight. To quote from Brillat-Savarin:
When you wish to take some good chocolate, make it the evening before in an earthenware coffeepot and leave it. The night rest concentrates it and gives it a smoothness that improves it.
This sounds a bit strange. I would expect some evaporation to thicken the chocolate up a bit, so the concentration makes sense, although I would guess it wouldn't be a big difference. As far as the smoothness goes, I would guess that melted chocolate in milk cannot get any more smooth. But, in my quest for the best hot chocolate, I decided to do a little experiment. I made hot chocolate, left it in the fridge for two days, then I made an identical hot chocolate. After heating up the first chocolate, I tasted them side by side. It was undeniable, the first really was noticeably thicker and smoother, a substantially better hot chocolate.

I wonder if the same effect could be accomplished by gently heating the chocolate for longer, so that more evaporation takes place. As researchers say in each paper "More research is needed". Does anyone want to give me grant money?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Hunan food at St. Marks Place

A coworker of mine from China recently said she went to a great Hunan-style restaurant. I was intrigued, since I had never eated authentic Hunan food (as far as I knew). Tell me more, I said. She said it was very authentic, and it was in St. Marks Place. Really? I didn't know any good Chinese place was there, besides the Grand Sichuan which I once at at. But, there is much I don't know about St. Marks Place, since it's never been very convenient for me to go there.

She took all of us there, and I discovered the Hunan place was... Grand Sichuan! But wait, Grand Sichuan specializes in Sichuan, not Hunan. She insisted the Chinese name of the restaurant was different, and this restaurant is really of no relation to the other ones. I'm not sure if I believed it, but I tried it.

So, this was a Grand Sichuan, and one I've eaten at before. But, unlike others, it had an extensive Hunan menu. She ordered a variety of dishes, and out they came.

Stinky Tofu

One of the things we had to try was the stinky tofu, which is a pretty hard thing to find in Chinese restaurants. The problem usually is that the tofu stinks enough to annoy the people at the other tables, which isn't generally good for business. Grand Sichuan handled this well, serving us a stinky tofu that was noticably stinky, but not overwhelmingly so. If it were represented by a cartoon, the brown stink lines would only extend six inches or so. As with good stinky tofu, the inner was creamy and mild tasting.

Preserved beef with pickles

Another interesting dish we got was preserved beef with sour-tasting green beans. Evidently preserved meats are a very important part of Hunan food. This dish was very well done, with the strong preserved meat being offset by the tang of the green beans. The combination was unusual for western palates, but it didn't take long to adjust and enjoy.

Sweet and sour fish

A particularly beautiful dish was a sweet & sour fish, sliced in such a way to fan out. The sweet & sour sauce was more sour, with a pungent dark vinegar bite to it. The fish was very well cooked, with sweet moist, tender flesh.

Winter melon

Another odd dish was a winter melon in a light sauce, with a few peppers adding some bite. The whole dish was fairly mellow with a subdued taste compared to the other Hunan dishes. but I liked its texture and the use of the winter melon.

Spicy fish hot pot

The menu had several dishes consisting of a little wok held over a burner, making a nice bubbling concoction. This particular one was fish in a spicy sauce that was also a bit sour. It taste just like it looks: hot and stimulating, the kind of food that will spur you to eat as much of it as you can regardless of how full you are.

We had a few other dishes, including a nice dou miao (pea sprouts), and another dish I can no longer recall.

All these dishes added up to a great introduction to Hunan food. I've realized I've eaten many of these things in Little Sichuan, a restuarant in San Mateo, CA that I used to frequent. I just never knew that they were Hunan. Hot and sour seemed to be the predominant flavors, and they really worked well together. I'm eager for more, and I'm also interested to learn the differences between the various Grand Sichuan locations. Do some really specialize in different cuisines? I'll let you know if I ever find out.

Welcome to bimodal eating!

Bimodal eating is a new food blog that I've created, to separate my food blogging from my other blogging efforts. Currently, my blogging efforts are spread a bit thin, and I don't necessarily have much time to blog. However, I'm using this new blog to blog about food going forward. My previous food blogging was done at Dresese, my personal blog.

Why bimodal? This reflects my belief that the best food is to be found at the ends of the price spectrum. Cheap food, either ethnic or not is a great way to spend money and time. Besides the already mentioned cheapness, cheap food focuses on the food as a necessity, because it can't afford any money spent in any different way. And, usually a great cheap place is just as cheap as a lousy cheap place, so there's a lot of value to be had for those who look. The other way to get great food is to go to an expensive restaurant, and that's good too, because expensive restaurants can afford to give you the truly creative, cutting-edge, luxurious food that is important to experience. The value here is good too, because if you can eat one of the best meals you'll ever get for just a few hundred dollars per person, it is well worth it.

I'll be posting various food experiences, every once in a while. I don't suggest checking back on this blog, but rather subscribe to it with an RSS reader (I personally prefer Google Reader).