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Fat Guy

Round Three: Hop, Skip, Jump

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Please post all writing competition round three entries here. The entries will be held in a moderated queue viewable only by the judges until such time as the winners are announced. The first, second, and third place winning entries will be published in the Daily Gullet. Honorable mentions will be published on this thread after the winners are announced.

Post away, and good luck!

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Review of Blini Hut, for TDG competition #3

You enter from lower Manhattan; but once inside, you might as well be overlooking the KGB looking you over in Krasnoye Ploshchad (Red Square). With its rustic, fiber-board walls, splintered beams, and orange plastic trays, Blini Hut is the Russia of your dreams. A limited but enticing menu based mainly on potatoes and cabbage takes your tongue back to Mother Russia, and you'll be happy to follow. The pea soup will remind you of the Volga at its industrial-effluvium best. Pelmeni – those Siberian sinkers of dun-colored dough filled with the most mysterious of minced meats – truly shine in their slick of oil-topped, water-enhanced broth. Be sure to try to get an order of sour cream before its expiry to go with them. Nowhere outside of Kiev will you find a better Pojarski Cutlet, that magnificent melange of cottony crumbs and a soupcon of poultry by-product, blanketed with a breadth of breadstuffs, deep-fried to golden perfection, and served on the fluffiest, spongiest, whitest of Wonder-ful rolls. And the blini, you ask? The blini? Ah, the blini! They would bring a tear to Brezhnev's eye, if Brezhnev bit the blini bystroh (quickly). What a shame for Brezhnev that he's been dead for as long as the blini batter's been bucketed.

The staff, all undoubtedly descendents of Pushkin, show none of that Soviet attitude one has come to expect in such establishments. They are well-versed in the beverage list, which includes vintage kvass and the best of bottled "Voda," and will gladly offer to "supersize" your choice. And they have the most endearingly socialist way of saying, "Chto vam noozhno – kartofl izshcharitz?" ("You want fries with that?")

Blini Hut is at 132 Nassau Street, Lower Manhattan.

NOTE: Unfortunately, since this review was written, Blini Hut ran afoul of the local tax collection authorities. The owner hopes that this silly misunderstanding will be resolved as soon as he applies the required emolument, and he will be able to reopen in the near future.

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The Omega

The Omega? What is this? A carton of oversized eggs? A secret Greek Society? Au contraire, ‘tis the steakhouse of steakhouses, where tableside cooking is considered an art, prepared lovingly, albeit gruffly, by your waiter who is likely Greek, and is as much a part of the atmosphere as the softly glowing fireplace in the corner, and intimate candlelit tables.

There is always a special, and it is always a veal chop, of such proportions, a family of three may easily dine on it, perhaps with some to take home, eleqantly wrapped in a foil swan. An Omega steak is beefy, of manly proportions, perfectly crisped on the outside, and any waiter at the Omega worth his salt will quietly ignore an order of “well done” and bring it to you the way they think it should be cooked, never more than medium, although medium will earn you a slight frown.

Their signature dish is the Caesar Salad. Prepared tableside, the making of this salad is as much about showmanship as it is taste complexity. Not for the faint of heart, or at least not for anyone who may wish to converse with others unfortunate enough not to have consumed this salad at the same time. This salad is guaranteed to keep Vampires/Bats and Door to Door Salesmen away.

Reservations Recommended. Closed Sundays

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After repeated begging for a lunch date, I agree.

At the appointed hour, 11:45 am to be exact, I cross the street from my house and enter the hallowed halls of Jenny Lind Elementary School. The floors are white speckled concrete, nice and shiny. The cement block hallways are lined with announcements, artwork, posters. I meet my date, Peter (age 7) at the junction of the hallway to the cafeteria.

The tables, each with a brightly colored formicas top, are picnic style, and fortunately, adult-sized. At the end of each table is a laminated sign indicating which class numbers are assigned to each table. Staffing is minimal, primarily present to ensure a quiet, controlled environment. Self-service would be the order of the day.

We stand in line. The aide at the door reminds us to keep our hands at our side, and be quiet. An outburst puts one back at the end of the line. The line progresses and we are each given a tray. Peter instructs me that today is pizza day. This is not the plop of glop on a plate administered by The Lunch Lady of my youth. The pizza comes in a cellophane wrapper; it has been at the bottom of the pile, so is slightly squished, but it is warm. The next station has little plastic trays, again with a cellophane cover, containing shredded iceberg lettuce and a few carrot and purple cabbage strands. The dressing is ala fast food, in a pouch, and of the white, ranchy variety. Dessert is a few small sugar wafers in yet another cellophane package. The presentation does leave something to be desired, although the salad was colorful, and the cookie pouch did have an attractive assortment of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. The meal is prepaid (by me; my date is not only short, he's broke), and Peter punches in his PIN number twice to indicate purchase of two lunches (I didn’t have my first pin number until I was in my mid-30’s).

Lunch proved to be less about the food than the educational aspect. The students tell me how to use the handle end of my “spork” (fork/spoon combo) to scrape the cheese off the cellophane and back onto my pizza, or it can be fun to roll the cheese up, and eat it before you eat the crust. I am also instructed exactly how to lick off the handle to avoid cutting my tongue. The bits of cellophane still attached provide an interesting textural contrast to the spongy dough and stringy cheese. For salad, I am informed that the fastest way is to shove a handful of lettuce into one’s mouth and then squirt salad dressing in. But, Tony Vang informs me, don’t pick your nose first or it might get mixed in with the salad. Sound advice. This is all washed down with Kemps very best chocolate milk, the overwhelming favorite of the first graders in room 102. We clear our own tables, and the student of the day in each class brings over a squirt bottle and paper towel to clean the table. Then, it’s recess!

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For salad, I am informed that the fastest way is to shove a handful of lettuce into one’s mouth and then squirt salad dressing in.

The Gastronomic path is one of life-long learning and experimentation. I might try this.

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Some of the hottest fine dining establishments today share something in common; their names are composed of a low-key acronym that pushes ego aside and lets the food speak for itself. ADNY, rm, WD-50 to name just a few, are some of the nation's top tables that share this signification. I am lucky enough to have one of these hip, nouveau hot-spots just outside my front door: KFC.

This gastronomic trend-setter is located in one of North America's hottest dining destinations: Oshawa, Ontario. It takes a strong economy of middle-to-lower class General Motors auto-workers to support a restaurant of this calibre, and Oshawa has just that! On any given night you shan't be surprised to see Ralph McPeters, supervisor of the section of the line that installs those elegant rear-view mirrors on the new 2003 Chevrolet Malibu, or Bob Jefferies, sheet-metal manipulator extraordinaire. This is where Oshawa's A-list dines. This is where I dine.

Upon entering the luxurious room, you're immediately greeted with the smell of fresh, regional ingredients: grease and unidentified poultry parts. It doesn't get more gourmet than this. Expect to be promptly greeted by one of the lovely staff primed and ready to take your order from a gleaming menu shining with technicolour reminiscent of the lights of Broadway. On any given evening you may choose from a wide array of fried chicken, salads, and award-winning frites. On this particular outing, I chose a free-range organic chicken breast, breaded in a Panko-esque Asian crust, and topped with sauce that would put the best of remoulades to shame. They call it the "Big Crunch", and it didn't disappoint. It was both big, and crunchy. No more, no less. A perfect menu description! It comes served with a side of frites, and a beverage of my choosing. I was having difficulty deciding upon a beverage for my meal, but the soft-drink sommelier was of immediate assistance. He suggested I go with something light and fruity with acidic notes: 7-Up. A perfect match with the earthiness of the chicken, and the bitterness of the 3-week old salmonella-infused sauce. Perfection!

And the best part? If you don't feel like mingling on any given visit, you can choose to receive all this from the comfort of your own automobile! KFC offers "Drive-Thru" service to all its patrons. Just another quaint, yet meaningful detail that makes KFC such an incredible place to dine. When was the last time you drove your Lexus through Charlie Trotter's? I'll bet you can't even remember! So don't look now Mr. Alain Ducasse of New York, but there's a new acronym in town, and its name is KFC!

****

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When accompanying five-year-old gourmand Rowan to the eatery of his choice, one must be prepared to make sacrifices. The not-yet Michelin-rated Taco Bell, just a block from our manse in the middle of Santa Cruz County, was to be the destination for a capricious luncheon with the tiny taco titan.

The brightly lit menu items above our heads gleamed with portent and promise. Brilliant green lettuce, grown and picked by virgins, tumbled sensuously from robust tortillas; steaming frijoles and gloriously grilled chunks of charcoal-emblazoned meats danced with cheese so voluptuous that it defied belief. Every single plate promised a fistful of dripping, smoldering oral pleasure. Rowan imperiously ordered, as was his wont, the classic Bean and Cheese Burrito, truly the test of any authentic Mexican chef—in this case, the challenge facing the cook was how to engorge the burrito with the requisite 1200 milligrams of sodium. I brazenly ordered a Chicken Supreme Gordita®, my mouth watering with anticipation.

Alas, when confronted with the reality of the actual "meal" (a euphemism employed here only for the sake of continuity), despair set in. I bit deeply into my Chicken Supreme Gordita® (Spanish for "zaftig") and encountered only layers and layers of tepid tortilla. A second bite revealed a cavernous lack of carnivorous substance: the overwhelming impression one receives in this instance is that of lettuce, so browned and mangled and wilting as to slither from its captivity in the tortilla. Subsequent bites were even more unsatisfying, as I failed to detect the cornucopia of either cheese or pollo, and I glanced at my companion to see how he fared. Rowan was tearing his way through his burrito, oblivious to the discrepancies between the marquee and that in his hands: his "burrito" resembled nothing so much as the Mexican version of a cocktail weinie (made flatter with the use of anvils, no doubt). It is thus with a heavy heart that I must offer the direst warnings to those people unfortunate enough to select Taco Bell as a dining destination. Anyone who's seen the restaurant scene in the horrifyingly bleak film, "Brazil," will understand my bitter laugh, remembering Katherine Helmond sending her compliments to the chef over three piles of glistening emerald gunge. What you see is not what you get.


Edited by tanabutler (log)

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The hottest restaurants in the U.S. continue to emphasize fresh, locally grown or produced ingredients, simply but creatively prepared. (Take that, Wooly Bulli!) This approach is perfectly exemplified at the recently expanded Forest Hills Café, conveniently located just inside the south entrance of Forest Hills Foods supermarket. Despite its unassuming décor, limited menu, and lack of table service, The Café (as it’s know to its regulars) stands alone at the cutting edge of West Michigan cuisine.

An example: During a visit (anonymous, of course) last week, I informed its lone employee that the salad bar was perilously close to running out of lettuce. In a flash she leaped from behind the counter and made for the produce department, nearly running over three shoppers and a cashier. Before I could say salade verte avec champignons, tomates, feta, olives noirs, et fonds d’artichauts ten times fast, there appeared a stunning mound of perfectly chopped romaine. Can’t get much fresher than that!

But perhaps the greatest appeal of The Café is that with eleven varieties of panini, eight flavors of Ben and Jerry’s, the aforementioned salad bar, massively caffeinated lattes, wireless Internet access, reasonably comfortable seats, and clean rest rooms, one need never go home. Or even have one. Bon soir, mes amis!

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When most people say "pizza" they think of crispy chewy crusts, topped with an old fashioned tomato sauce and gooey mozzarella cheese. Me? I think potatoes, and peanut sauce, and pineapple. Yes, that's right. I share a residence with that temple of fusion cuisine -- the California Pizza Kitchen. It goes where no chef has gone before. It is, in fact, the Olympics of Pizza places, with toppings so varied, so international in scope, and so surprising as to satisfy even the most jaded of palates.

Take the Sante Fe Chicken Pizza. A southwestern explosion of flavors, it includes grilled chicken breast marinated in lime and herbs, caramelized onions, Mozzarella cheese and cilantro. Topped with fresh tomato salsa, sour cream and guacamole, this pizza shares only the crust with a traditional pie. Feel like something a little more Asian? Try the Peking Duck Pizza. With peking duck, Mozzarella cheese, soy-glazed Shiitake mushrooms, crispy wontons, slivered green onions and a ginger Hoisin sauce, who needs to order Chinese? And if you're actually in the mood for Italian, you still won't be confined to those old, boring pizzas. You can order the Rosemary Chicken Potato Pizza -- the flavors of Italy on a pizza crust.

Don't feel like pizza? You can get your tastebuds tickled by California Pizza Kitchen's multiple menu options -- try the Kung Pao spaghetti or the BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad. The flavors may be familiar, but the presentations most definitely are not. The next time one of your family members wants Thai food, and another wants soul food, you might just try the California Pizza Kitchen -- where everyone can find what they want.

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For the record, my entry above was one of my ever first eGullet posts, before I understood the premise of the competitions, not knowing that was an end to these contests. And I was so embarrassed when it just lay there and lay there, and no one told me that I'd entered a contest long past its "sell-by" date. icon_redface.gif

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Quit blushing, you actually did the right thing. :biggrin: So far, this is contest without end, amen. Ms Maggie just announced here that this one has yet to be decided. So you too might win a fabulous prize.

(Speaking of which, um, Divine Ms M: have you noticed that I lost my color and been a "Member" -- a woman of the people -- for several months now? :wink: )

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For the record, my entry above was one of my ever first eGullet posts, before I understood the premise of the competitions, not knowing that was an end to these contests. And I was so embarrassed when it just lay there and lay there, and no one told me that I'd entered a contest long past its "sell-by" date. icon_redface.gif

Me too. It was also my first attempt at entering a smackdown contest. I felt the same way! :blink:

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Restaurant JoJo

A review by A.A.Gordon

The name JoJo has come to define French country, bistro cuisine. In the deft hands of restaurateurs like Vongerichten or Boulud, the quasi-diluted American versions of La Coupole or Les Deux-Magots are passable. Given Rochester’s remote location and lack of culinary innovation, the resultant meal yielded predictable consequences.

Entering through faux maple veneer doors, you are greeted by an adequately sized space, colors by Home Depot, and a hostess named Susan (who dresses more like someone named Trixie) Not having a reservation, we were instructed to wait in the bar area for 15-20 minutes while a table was prepared –more so while we waited for three housewives to finish mincing over who ate more of the calamari salad they split 3-ways

The bar area is large by restaurant standards displaying copious wine storage and racks of marginally clean stemware. The highlight of the evening seemed to be an adequate martini made with Boodles gin with a whisper of Noilly Prat vermouth spoiled only by a questionable olive that found its way over my shoulder.

We were prompted seated in a banquette and handed menus with the days specials that included Oysters on the half – $ 9.75, Clam Fritters w remoulade – $ 7.50, Country Pate – $ 8.50, and greasy fingerprints at no charge. Our server proved most annoying – reciting volumes of canned chatter through a smile that resembled a box of Chiclets. I had asked her if the Pate featured any Offal but was met with the deer-in-the-headlights glazed eyes. She was going to ask the kitchen which I sure was met with the same

My companion and I decided to start with the Jonah Crab Bisque – $ 7.00, Oysters on the half, Clam Fritters, and a bottle of Grunhauser Spatlese Riesling – $ 36.00. Water was received in a timely fashion and a basket of something resembling “bread” found its way over. The wine was presented but the cork proved to be more mysterious than the Sphinx. After a long physical (and I’m sure mental) battle, the cork was extracted and a customary 5 oz pour was offered to taste. The wine had the typical slate overtones with bracing acidity and a nice herbal edge. “An excellent choice by me” I remarked to my companion. The oysters feigned “fresh” because they must have lost half their body weight in the journey from the kitchen. The rubbery consistency was surpassed only by the amount of sediment in the liqueur. A champagne vinegar mignonette was offered and it proved little more than a vehicle for coarsely chopped shallots. The star of this dish was the lemon wedge. The Clam fritters appeared to have Clam in them but I guess the term “fritter” means to batter and poach in room temperature Crisco and the remoulade displayed a color that has yet to named. The Jonah Crab bisque was observed from afar – after spending the best years of it’s life in the pick-up window – it was brought to us with a skin thicker than 3-day-old chicken a la king in army mess hall. I believe this to be the first time in culinary history that cream actually made something worse - it was sent back

Due to pangs of hunger, we were forced to order entrees and hope for the best. I chose the marinated pork chop – 15.50 and my companion thought the Salmon – 15.00 looked safe. No temp was offered for either so I feared the meal may take a turn for the worse. Of course my fears were realized when my pork (with a texture like it was marinated in concrete) arrived with a piece of Salmon that looked like it was found on some Pamplona street corner after the running of the bulls. The Pork’s charred crust revealed a gray interior accompanied by a brown sauce of questionable origin and a mash of sweet potatoes. The alleged Salmon was served over wilted greens but exhibited a rather puzzling odor that can only be described as wet hay bale meets old aquarium.

If you’re looking for a place to bring your ex-wife - then proceed by all means. But for this reviewer, – JoJo is a NoNo – check please

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