From Russia, with Love
I’m back! Two weeks in Russia and I wasn’t Manchurian Candidate’ed once. Though, I suppose if I had been, I wouldn’t realize it.
Ugh, that thought will linger.
Anyway, I hope you’ve been well in my absence. I’ve got a few other trips this summer that will make getting the newsletter out in a timely fashion hard, and am working to get ahead of it. As for Russia, I wasn’t expecting to be so thoroughly charmed. I had a lot of wonderful meals in unexpected places and a dreadful meal at one of the top restaurants in the world. More on that another time, probably.
An important programming note. This week’s Snack Cart will be a bit uneven, as I’ve got a mix of stories from last week and from before I left. So if a lot of this feels old to you, think of it as a fun throwback to when summer was young and full of promise.
Helen Rosner at the New Yorker pens an ode to Nailed It, the Netflix show where contestants try (and fail) to execute complicated Pinterest-y baked creations. She calls out something important about why I love this show so much: It could easily be cruel, but instead “is a joyous testament to the power of laughing with instead of laughing at.” Season two just dropped, so now is the time to catch up on the best food competition show since the original Iron Chef.
Season 2 of Queer Eye also dropped, and while I haven’t had the emotional fortitude to settle in for that crying jag yet, I did love this Vulture article ranking every dish Antoni has made.
The two shows crossed over, with the Queer Eye guys competing in a special Youtube episode of Nailed it. Antoni is picked to judge, which means the truthers among us still don’t have video confirmation he can cook.
The real Netflix food news is that Luke Cage Season Two has a major location set at a fantastic Caribbean restaurant in my neighborhood.
Speaking of Crown Heights, Laura Yan, writing for The Outline, spends 24 hours in a Dunkin Donuts here (one of a small number worldwide that are open round-the-clock). This was one of the more delightful and poignant “writer spends too much time at a place” stories I’ve read. I suspect that’s because of Yan herself. Instead of a long introspective essay of her going slowly insane (which can be really great!) she interviews and talks with the waves of people that come through the franchise. It’s a beautiful ode to how places like this are the centers of their own communities.
MUST READ: Alexis Madrigal is on fire writing about the history of the straw. Straws are a big deal right now, as various municipalities line up to ban them based on dodgy evidence. The story he tells is edge-of-your seat compelling, placing straws at the center of the American industry for the past 150 years: “the straw, which created first disposable products, then companies, and finally people.”
This hit far too close to home to be funny.
The Sporkful interviews Arlene and Alan Alda about food, life, and their relationship. It’s just as charming as you imagine Alan Alda talking about meeting his wife over a rum cake to be. What a damn delight.
I know I said I was David Chang’ed out, but I forgot that he did a funny video AmA that was directed by a few college friends of mine. I am not sure if I am supposed to have journalistic ethics, but if you’ve carried my drunk ass home as many times as they did, I’ll shill whatever you want. Plus, the video is delightful. Chang’s funniest answer is when someone asked what food celebrity he would eat.
In an essay custom-made for me, author Martin Walker reflects on the importance of food in crime fiction. He talks about how detectives from Sherlock Holmes until today have loved food, and how it can help flesh out characters or set scenes. Somehow, Walker skips over Nero Wolfe, the most famous gastronomic detective.
TALK ABOUT A COCKTAIL.
Marian Bull writes the way I hope to when I grow up. GQ sent her to Los Angeles to survey the weed and food movement. As full legalization creeps closer, chefs are experimenting with how to integrate marijuana into their meals. It’s disorganized and tentative, and I was reminded of the weirdos and hippies who first started growing wine in California. Bull is clear that none of the chefs are doing anything that interesting yet, but there’s *something* there.
Anna Roth writes about the power of Ikea meatballs, and Ikea itself. For many people of our generation, Ikea is a right of passage that marks all of our major life changes. My first apartment. My first apartment with my girlfriend. The Billy bookshelves I gave away rather than figure out what to do with after we broke up. Going to the one in LA with almost no money when I moved out there. The most recent trip to the Red Hook one, which didn’t exist the last time I lived in New York. During each visit, the meatballs, gravy, and lingonberry jam provide sustenance and a much-needed center to the trip. This really was something to read.
The Fancy Food Show was this week. I found out about it because lots of people I follow on Instagram were posting stories (the social media channel of choice when you want to brag, but don’t want evidence that you were bragging). Bon Appetit wrote up what it’s like to be inside a giant trade show for up-market snacks. I really enjoy industry-ish stories like this. It’s a peek behind the curtain for what’s driving most of what we eat.
Since I can’t get enough “business of food,” here’s an interview in Black Enterprise with Genelle Drayton. She left a ten-year career in marketing to start a baking company. She then pivoted from an all-purpose bakery to focusing on her coconut macaroons. Success followed and her cookies was recently picked up by Bloomingdales. I wish this interview had more about that particular moment in her journey.
Daniela Galarza at Eater writes about what place Mario Batali’s cookbooks have on our shelves in the wake of his disgrace. It’s weirdly compounded by the fact that his books weren’t selling particularly well anyway. There’s a larger conversation to be had about separating artists from their art, but Galarza makes the point that there are a ton of pasta puttanesca recipes out there. You can let these ones go.
Of all the Grub Street diets I missed, John Leguizamo’s was the most charming. It made me want to be healthier, and to be friends with John Leguizamo.
There are few stories I like more than spiteful and weird tree poisonings.
Since moving back, I’ve been amazed how much the Mister Softee jingle turned out to be an ingrained sense memory. I hear it a lot these days, and I’m instantly transported to all the previous times I’ve heard it, and to the excitement I felt hearing other ice cream truck jingles as a child. Tejal Rao profiles a Mister Softee truck driver, detailing both how hard he works and how much he loves his job. Absolutely beautiful story. Maybe I’ll run out to catch the truck next time I hear one passing by.
Ligaya Mishan visits Mama Fina’s House of Filipino Sisig, where she’s singing the praises of the eponymous dish. I really need to start eating Filipino food.
One of my favorite things is how, as traditional foods are reinterpreted in new countries, they become their own distinct cuisine. Think about how Tex Mex is as distinct as Oaxacan, or how General Gau’s chicken is as canonical as any Sichuan dish. Robert Sietsema publishes a comprehensive first look of Di An Di in Greenpoint, where two Vietnamese-Americans are celebrating Vietnamese-American cuisine. This primarily means versions of Pho you see in Houston, but there are also some dishes from Orange County and elsewhere.
There’s very little I like more from Pete Wells than when he revisits classic New York locations. His review of Restaurant Nippon delivers the goods. He meditates on a different era of dining, and on a place that was the first introduction to Japanese food for many Americans. The food holds up, even if the trends have passed the place by. He awards it one out of four stars.
Wells also visited The Islands, a Jamaican place I’ve walked by a few times. I didn’t realize there was a great story about neighborhood change and a passionate local business inside, as well as top notch Jamaican cooking. He awards it one out of four stars.
Eater’s Jenny Zhang dives deep into the question of why the East Village is becoming a younger, hipper Chinatown. There are more than half-dozen new restaurants (with more on the way) opening serving different kinds of regional Chinese food in modern settings. Zhang looks at the local, national, and international trends driving this. All of them track back to China becoming richer and more influential.
Ryan Sutton at Eater reviews Una Pizza and boy, is he harsh. I found the review helpful, as I have been following along and nodding as the obsession with the New York -> San Francisco -> New York transplant has swirled. Sutton says that while the food is good, the pizzas aren’t worth their sky-high prices. He awards it one out of four stars.
Kara Baskin writes a really nice walkthrough of how to eat like a local in the North End. She dives deeper than most of these, skipping past even “secrets” like Galleria Umberto’s in favor of ultra-local places. It’s a lovely story, but I can’t really get over the fact that for a story about eating like a local in the North End she drove there.
Michael Schlow is doing a popup!
MC Slim JB visits Bab Korean Bistro, a new restaurant in Coolidge Corner. Slim recommends naeng myeon, a cold-but-spicy dish of buckwheat noodles, vegetables, and beef. Cold and spicy is a weird combination for Americans, but Slim says we should look more to how other countries eat during hot weather.
The Improper Bostonian is out with their 2018 food awards. I’m a big fan, because they give awards in more specific categories than other publications. Declaring a best restaurant is important, but it’s far more interested to read about who won “Best Bread” (They award it to Oak + Rowan).
Townsman, the Chinatown restaurant that exemplified regional New England cooking, closed unexpectedly last week. A real lost to New England’s culinary scene, even if I did find it just a bit too expensive.
I will always root for my old neighborhood of Dudley Square. Soleil, a new spot serving soul food for breakfast and lunch (dinner soon), seems like a great replacement for the Tasty Burger that used to be there. I’d be really interested to see how they solved the fact that that layout of the space is absolutely terrible.
Apparently, while I was gone I missed a mini-scandel in Chicago. One of the owners of the Holiday Club, an Uptown club and restaurant, posted an anti-immigrant meme on Facebook mocking family separate. There was a massive outcry, and the rest of the owners have pushed him out, and are now hosting a pro-immigrant rally and fundraiser.
Phil Vettel revisits Sepia, the older cousin of new hot-shot restaurant Proxi. Though chef Andrew Zimmerman is focusing on the new property, Vettel finds the decade-old Sepia is still sensational.
A Michigan wine country road trip sounds like a lot of fun.
Mike Sula rounds up three new taco spots around town. The review itself shoehorns a bit too much politics in (there are plenty of politics around tacos, but it just didn’t seem to make sense here). Of the three, only the third seems really interesting to me. The first two focus on overstuffed and experimental tacos, which I don’t always love. If I have to use a fork and knife to eat the taco, it’s missing the point.
Michael Gerbert at Fooditor dives into one of my favorite cuisines: Japanese soul food. With the chef at Momotaro, Gerbert looks at a few different dishes and talks about the history of Western-Japanese hybrids, some created in America and some in Japan. He mentions one of my favorites, omurice.
Initiative 77, which will increase the tipped minimum wage, narrowly passed after a hard-fought campaign. Ultimately, I think this is the right move. Many bar and restaurant workers opposed the measure because it actually might cut their wages (people, knowing that servers make higher wages, would tip less. This would drive down the overall amount they make). However, what this measure really does is help restaurant workers on the fringes. It’s already having effects, with some customers either confused or just being assholes. I remain hopeful, however.
We may be preparing for a new political food fight, as council members have introduced a bill outlawing cashless restaurants.
Laura Hayes at Washington City Paper had a striking realization: almost half of the eateries in Union Market are run by women! She visit the bustling food hall in Northeast to highlight a few of the better stalls.
I missed most of the Red Hen thing (thank god). During the controversy, the restaurant closed for two weeks. The Washington Post visits after it reopens. It seems that the controversy has moved on, and things are returning to normal.
Chez Jay is a place I have never been but will never tire of reading about. It’s the ultimate Santa Monica dive bar, where the food and drinks are cheap, the atmosphere is friendly, and the Los Angeles history is amazing. This Punch profile recaps some of the best stories (the peanut that went into space and the elephant that broke the bar are two classics I knew about already). Next trip, I’m going.
Hot dog fried rice, you say?
A neat look at a Mexicali taco truck in East LA teaches me a new Mexican street food. Vampiros are tortillas blistered on a hot griddle topped with cheese and meat. Sort of an open-faced quesadilla. I am all in.
I guess J. Gold was also on vacation, as he’s only dropped one review over the last month. But it’s an important one. He reviews Bavel, the Middle Eastern restaurant that is tearing up my Instagram feeds. This is a long-anticipated restaurant, and Gold meditates on hummus, on chef Ori Menashe, and on a particular Danish candy I’ve never heard of. This review helped me better understand Middle Eastern cooking, and in particular this moment where that kind of cooking is on the rise.
Out of context J. Gold quote of the week
"You carve off a bit of the dripping meat, tear off a scrap of hot laffa bread, tuck in the vegetables — you have constructed the ultimate taco al pastor of the Middle East"