Asiadog – New York City, NY

At the risk of sounding blasphemous, I’m going to suggest that when it comes to New York hot dogs, you forget Nathan’s, forget Sabrett, forget Hebrew National. While all of those venerable names have provided tasty dogs to hungry patrons for decades, there is a new dog on the block, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s from Asia.

Owners Mel and Steve are celebrating their diverse Asian background by applying old world flavors to the humble New York staple. Asiadog is the manifestation of their desire to combine two corners of the culinary world to create seven tantalizing dogs with flavors from China, Japan, Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. As with most brilliant ideas, once you see it, you wonder why this hasn’t been done before. Maybe it has, but there’s a reason I’m here talking about Asiadog and not some other lackluster joint. They get it right, and for all the sumo-sized flavors they’re pumping out, it all starts with the dog. You can pile any number of delectable toppings on a bland dog and it’ll fall flat, but start with a plump and juicy dog, bursting with unctuous saltiness, and you’ve got the perfect platform for a winning weiner.

Of the seven individuals on the list, I went with my soon-to-be-best-friends, Wanging and Vinh,  respectively of Chinese and Vietnamese descent. Wangding came fully loaded with a healthy pile of Chinese BBQ pork belly, thinly sliced cucumbers and scallions. It was actually reminiscent of a Peking duck bun. The omnipresent sauce tasted a bit like hoisin and the pork belly chunks had the same juicy tenderness of a well-roasted duck, pair that with a slightly sweet, spongy hot dog bun and you’re in for a Chinese chow-down.

Vinh was a nice compliment to the assertive Wangding. It traded the powerful brown BBQ/hoisin sauce for pickled carrot and daikon, fresh cucumber, jalepeño, cilantro and pork paté. Where the Wangding is something you’d appreciate on a frigid day in Beijing, the Vinh is a refreshing summer snack that you’d like to enjoy under cay hoa sua tree in one of the many parks in Hanoi. My only complaint was that the flavor of the paté was too timid compared to the pickled veg and jalepeño. Granted it did lend creaminess to the affair, but I really wanted a good slab of paté that made itself known. I’m nitpicking though, both dogs were just unbelievable, the best I’ve had in recent memory.

Not in the mood for a dog? You’re crazy, but it’s cool, Asiadog has a handful of alternatives that look just as tasty. A Korean bulgogi burger topped with either kimchi or Asian slaw, a pulled pork sammy with ginger BBQ sauce again with kimchi or slaw and the most intriguing, a kimchi pancake corndog, deep-fried and served with Korean chili sauce.

Asiadog, I love you guys, you hit all the right notes, a simple menu full of savory dogs, fresher than fresh, expertly executed Asian toppings and a well designed menu and graphic style to boot. Visiting New York? Living in New York? Why haven’t you been to Asiadog? I’ll definitely be back, kudos Mel and Steve, thank you so much for sharing your food with the world and keep up the good work!

P.S. Please make t-shirts with your logo on it, I know I’m not the only one who wants one!

Asiadog on Urbanspoon

Utilitarian, Enthusiast or Snob. Which foodie are you?

Some people are food lovers, savoring meals, taking inordinate amounts of time to eat them while enjoying the company of close friends and loved ones. Others simply view meals as a means to an end, satiating hunger in order to get on with a more important task. Their mantra, in the words of Remi’s father, “food is fuel”. If you’re on the proverbial fence here are some points to help you figure out where you stand.

  • Many miles are put on your odometer, driving out of your way to purchase locally sourced or naturally grown foods
  • Pesticides and genetically engineered products are generally not part of your food vocabulary
  • The following movies/programs are in your Netflix or Hulu instant-watch queues: El Bulli (cooking in progress), After Hours with Daniel Boulud, Man vs. Food, Food Inc., Made in Spain with Jose Andres, Kitchen Nightmares or Masterchef, Avec Eric, No Reservations, Kings of Pastry, Fat Sick and Nearly Dead, Jacque and Julia at home, I like killing flies, and hopefully Marcels Quantum Kitchen. Or any other show obtained through nefarious means. (I just received an urgent message. My favorite food related movie Big Night is now on Netflix instant watch. If you have failed to view this masterpiece, do so now.)
  • At 10:30 pm, after checking  and rechecking your fridge and pantry, you find you have no food whatsoever to cook or eat right away, you decide to do without rather than settling for fast food
  • After contemplating the thought of going to bed hungry, you slip on your flip-flops and drive 45 minutes to the closest 24-hour taco truck. Your stomach will win this battle
  • You are the authority on where to get the good foie
  • You are regularly harassed for being a “foodie” which apparently is synonymous with “food snob”
  • You spend hours online researching new or unvisited restaurants to visit, even if you’re too broke to go out, quite possibly it’s for someone else
  • A co-worker starts talking about “The woman who has that restaurant in California”. You immediately respond, ” You mean Alice Waters from Chez Panisse?”  They look at you in amazement like you’re Carnac the Magnificent.
  • You plan your trips around what restaurants you want to visit in any given city. (Daytona Beach is no longer a viable vacation destination)
  • You visit Chicago, obviously eating at Hot Doug’s is top priority, despite the fact that someone tells you it’s too commercial. (You know who you are) You know what’s too commercial? Mad Men. It’s an entire show about commercials. You know what’s the best show on the T.V? Mad Men. You know…that show about commercials!
  • People don’t get your food related jokes, except, you know, smart people
  • You don’t really know how to follow a recipe from start to finish, because recipes are for the Devil

So where do you fall? Do you have a love affair with food, or is your relationship a little tepid? There’s no need to defend yourself for your stances on these matters, regardless of your status food-wise. As for me, I’m a little tired of making  jokes, only to have someone take offense or judge me negatively because they disagree when it comes to the art of the chew. Most of the time, I’m mocking my perception of how I think people see me, but what happens? People take me seriously. Does it mean I’ll stop making a mockery of things? Of course not!  Unless someone is trying to take away one of your personal rights, it’s time to let the ignorant go about their business. Let them go to bed hungry or bloated.

Now for the first Eat a Duck poll. We want to hear from you people!

The Refinery – Tampa, FL

“Good food is a necessity.”

I think we can all agree with that 100%. Good food is one of the many things The Refinery aims to offer their patrons week in and week out. The team at The Refinery also believe that being able to eat well should not depend on the thickness of your wallet. It’s easy to see that the people of Tampa share in this belief. Looking out into the small dining room, up the stairs to the quaint bar and finally to my destination, the rooftop patio, there is a veritable cornucopia of demographics all dining together as one. Everyone is all smiles (including my buddy Phillip and myself), as they enjoy the chefs fare for the weeks of May 3-16. You see, the menu is not set. As the availability of the foods from local sources come and go, so do menu items. I couldn’t be happier that the chef plays with that double-edged sword.

Photo: www.pietriphotography.com

It reminds me of a recent interview the New York Times had with one of the pioneers of avant-garde cooking in the states, Wylie Dufresne. He recently decided to gut his menu and change it completely. To avoid the “Stairway to Heaven” effect of people coming to his restaurant only for the familiarity of a “signature” dish instead of the anticipation of an entirely new experience. Honestly, I would have called it the “Life is a Highway” effect, but whatever. The Refinery doesn’t need to worry about that little issue, because probably, the things you’re reading about here will either be tweaked, or not in season by the next menu cycle.

Before I start things off talking about specific menu items, I’ve got to applaud the front of house. Had I been responsible, I would have made a reservation far in advance. What I did do was call 40 minutes before dinner service the day of, in an attempt to procure a spot. Although, Michelle the manager informed me, it was the worst possible day to try to get a table in the main dining hall due to a local college graduation, she graciously welcomed us to dine at the bar or the roof, and that we could still order whatever we wanted off the menu.

At the bar, Phillip and I enjoyed a beer and an appetizer while it was still relatively hot outside. I selected a salad of olive oil poached oysters, atop ribbons of shaved carrot and cucumber. A little extra touch of the ocean was added by some strands of seaweed. It was topped with a citrus truffle vinaigrette and sprinkles of togarashi chili powder. The salad was the right start to the meal, due to the high alcohol content of our brews. The only thing I would critique (before we can get back to me completely falling all over myself with compliments) is that the oysters and the truffle in the dressing didn’t add much in the way of flavor. However the plate was visually pleasing, the other flavors were brilliant and the slow burn from the chili was gorgeous.

Photo: www.pietriphotography.com

We made our way outside to enjoy the rest of the meal. The sun had begun to fade and a slight breeze was stirring. I ordered two more starters instead of a main course. Phillip chose a single large plate entrée, reminiscent of something you would be served at a family dinner. Of course, in this scenario your mother is April Bloomfield. A thick hunk of crispy roasted pork shoulder, with a stuffing of grain mustard and sweet onion was presented. The meat was not overly tender, it bounced back a little when bitten into, but was still as moist as could be. All the little islands of fat as we call them, surrounded the meat in flavor on one hand, and created a lovely crisp crust on the other. The potatoes lived up to their creamery name and provided a classic accompaniment to the meat. The green beans….were not ordinary, they were phenomenal. They were pickled in some sort of red wine solution and then warmed throughout, unlike anything I’ve had with a similar meal. I was definitely impressed by that combo, it was one of those ideas you have to steal for private use.

My first dish was lamb belly and pork terrine with a grapefruit marmalade. As opposed to the traditional toast point, green radishes were provided to serve as the vessel for a paté to mouth coupling. I loved it. All that “lamby” goodness and the range of spices from sage to coriander and peppercorns, instantly took me to the French countryside. A place I’ve never been to but it seems quite nice in my head.

Photo: www.pietriphotography.com

I then received what looked to be a giant wonton. I could have sworn I ordered a ravioli. The menu lists it as fried beef tongue ravioli. I must have completely misunderstood. Some of the worlds greatest mistakes turn out to be triumphs, and this was one of them. I mean really, either way it would have worked. How could it not with a luscious mousseline of beef tongue inside that deep-fried gigantic piece of noodle? Underneath lay intermingled pools of thinned out tomato aioli and green onion pesto. When dishes are this delicious, it can be sad knowing, due to the ever-changing menu, that you’ll probably never see them again. Although without this temporal shift, you may not be enjoying that very plate! On to bigger and better things!

Photo: www.pietriphotography.com

I really like their approach to dessert course. Every, and I mean every time I look online at the menu, dessert has a savory component to compliment the sweet. To my memory, the best desserts, or at least the most distinct, involve some abnormal combination. This time the key ingredient was thyme. It was laced throughout a salted caramel sauce that laid inside the crevices of a soft, pillowy, individually sized polenta cake. The cake was then finished off with a few slices of macerated peaches and a generous helping of ganache. I think this, more so than any of the other fine menu items that stood on The Refinery’s list, was a case of either, “you fall in love with this cake so much you want it to be a part of your life” or “you hate it and never want to see its ugly face again”. I can’t really argue the point of not liking it. I get it. Savory sweets aren’t for everyone. You’re either all in or your out.

Photo: www.pietriphotography.com

I’m in on The Refinery. It’s a great spot bringing complex yet welcoming dishes to the masses. These kinds of establishments need our patronage as much as we need them to widen our culinary horizons. We should all show our gratitude toward those in the kitchen working to keep things inovative and fresh, so that we as diners don’t lose interest and move on. I let far too much time pass between visits. Who knows what amazing creations I missed out on and could have been inspired by? I can tell you one thing, it won’t happen again if I have anything to say about it.

The Refinery on Urbanspoon

Cafe 118 – Orlando, FL

Allow me to lift the curtain a bit to expose the inner workings of the Eat a Duck empire. Please, for your safety, hold on to a hand rail or take a seat at your earliest convenience. After deliberating with our statisticians Billy Bean, and C3PO, it has come to my attention that….suprise! Eat a Duck spends much time discussing the pleasures incurred by eating pork products of varying preparations, fattened goose/duck livers, and deep-fried potatoes of many shapes and creeds.

The truth is, more often than not, (I am speaking for James as well) in our day-to-day lives eating at home and such, we eat more vegetables than meat. I love fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and I often try to incorporate them into my meals.

When I found out, about a year ago, that Orlando had a 100% vegetarian/vegan, and raw restaurant I was intrigued. I was curious about how a chef could get away with serving a menu that is completely uncooked and make it palatable for the masses.

Photo courtesy of: www.lancearoundorlando.com

You see the  number “118” in Cafe 118 isn’t derived from an old cliché way of coming up with a name for a restaurant. That of generically using the street address to make it easy on would be patrons. Or from some abstract reference to the amount of times it took to perfect the hummus recipe. The number 118 stands for the commonly accepted temperature at which enzymes and the nutritional contents of raw plants begin to break down and become useless to body. Call me Bill Nye, or maybe just Mr. Google.

Like I said before, my family went a year ago and had an amazing meal. It changed the way I thought about the possibilities of food preparation and “cooking”. We decided to give Cafe 118 our business once again, just to make sure it was still as good as we remembered.

The menu consists of a list of different beverages including raw juices, smoothies, and shakes. I’m assuming these are consumed mostly by people wanting a quick meal replacement, because some of the concoctions are quite hearty. I opted to share a freshly made pineapple, celery and mint juice. I knew it was fresh because I could hear the industrial strength juicer roaring in the back. I don’t know about you, but I love that sound. The juice was refreshing and light, not too sweet and yet it didn’t overpower you with “celeryness”.

Café 118 spread

We decided to share three items between the two of us. The equation of 3=2+Dessert will help you make some tough decisions should you find yourself with a partner at Cafe 118. That’s the perfect ratio of menu items to create a full stomach when dining in pairs. Feel free to multiply for larger parties, as if this were a cookie recipe.

The first appetizer we ordered came almost instantly. I guess if you’re not cooking anything, there isn’t much choice in the matter. We got four huge vegetable spring rolls. The wrapper was a crunchy piece of collard green enveloping julienned carrots and red cabbage. The vegetables inside were tossed in a creamy lemon macadamia nut dressing. The fun begins when you dip the thing in a dish of sweet and sour sauce that comes on the side. The different textures of extremely crunchy combined with the creamy dressing and dipping sauce mingled together quite nicely. The spring rolls were delicious and very filling, but the dipping sauce was otherworldly to say the least. No joke, that sauce is better than most traditional house made sweet dipping sauces you would find anywhere else. Interestingly they don’t really describe the contents of is the sauce, it must be a secret. I’ll say I would love to dip a nice chunk of crispy pork belly from Ming’s Bistro in that sauce. Oh whoops I’m already slipping back to carnivore mode.

The next plate was baby sweet peppers stuffed with a cashew and almond puree, topped with what tasted like a red pepper aioli. Although we knew it wasn’t, since there would have been eggs in there somewhere. On top of that lay a sprinkling of chopped arugula to add some color to the plate. Then, for good measure, a few drops of truffle infused olive oil. This might have been the most shocking discovery in a while for me. I never thought to add truffle to my raw vegetables. It made it all the more complex and earthy if that’s even possible. Textures really take center stage when eating this way. It gave me the idea to add truffle oil to my hummus next time I make it to see how well it meshes. I don’t see why it shouldn’t after experiencing the triumph that was the pepper dish. Only two things down and I’m already getting full? Weird.

Finally, the main course of spaghetti with sun-dried tomato sauce arrived in all its glory. If you didn’t see the little flecks of greens that peeked through the sauce, coming from the ribbons of zucchini, it would have been hard to tell that the pasta wasn’t pasta at all! I believe that to get  zucchini to meet the shape and texture of pasta, they have to soak it so it begins to wilt a bit. Whatever it was they did, it tasted and felt al dente. I normally choose to pass on anything “sun-dried, but I’m glad I didn’t try swaying my wife to order something else. The sauce that coated the “pasta” was chock full of a sweet tomato, garlic and basil goodness that even Lydia Bastianich would have trouble wrapping her head around. To make it even more appealing to the uninitiated, you get a couple mini meatballs made from spinach and mushroom with a dusting of pine nut cheese to take the place of Parmigiano Reggiano.

They also do raw desserts and ice “creams” that are amazing. I ordered their take on s’mores, which was quite good. Thin graham wafers sandwiching an oozy marshmallow type sweetness and then drizzled with chocolate sauce. I only took one bite of that because I was already stuffed and satisfied.

The meal was a complete success in my mind. I really appreciate how they are trying to make this kind of food easily accessible to anyone. I would be so bold as to bring my Mom and Dad here and not even worry if they’d have a great dinner. Now here is a question for all of you out there, but mainly to those in smaller communities. Do you think something like Cafe 118, a restaurant  free of meat, animal products and ovens for that matter, could be a success in your town?

Café 118° Living Cuisine Café & Juice Bar on Urbanspoon

An Interview with Fiat Cafe’s Stephane Iacovelli

As promised, we were able to sit down with the owner of Fiat Cafe, Stephane Iacovelli, to get some quick insights into this awesome little eatery. I’d like to thank Stephane’s mother for instilling the love for food in her son so that he can bring her amazingly delicious recipes to the world! 

Tell me a little about yourself, where are you from, where did you grow up?
I was raised in a small suburban city near Paris known as Drancy, but my parents are Italian, so I got their Italian mentality along with a French education.

What were/are your influences when it comes to food?
My main influence when it comes to food, I would have to say, has been ever since a child, watching my mother constantly cook.

How did you get into the restaurant business?
I got into the restaurant business by wanting to bring the inspiration my mother gave me, farther.

What led you to create Fiat Cafe, and what is your goal with this restaurant?
I created Fiat Cafe to try to give people a taste of the food that my mother showed me that I fell immediately in love with.

What drives the menu? Where did you learn/find your recipes?
I learned the recipes from my mother, and family ingredients.

What are some of your favorite places to eat when you go out for a meal, either in NYC or elsewhere?
In NYC, my favorite place to eat would be Bar Pitti, down in west village.

Name a dish most reminds you of home?
Carvatelli with broccoli

Any advice for amateur cooks looking to get more serious about a career in food?
I would have to say, like everything else, just keep at it, and if it’s what your interested in, to take it to the next step.

Thanks again to Stephane for taking the time to answer some questions for our humble blog and becoming the first of hopefully many food-related interviewees.

On a side note, I made my way to Fiat Cafe once again yesterday and enjoyed another exceedingly fresh and delicious meal. I always try to order different things, because if a restaurant is truly great, they’ll succeed with every dish, not just their specialties. I ordered the burrata with tomatoes and basil and the linguine fini with baby clams and pancetta. 

And succeed they did. The burrata and tomatoes were at the peak of freshness, a sprinkle of salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil enhanced the already bright flavors. There are few things better than a perfect orb of burrata. 

Except the excellent execution of a bowl of linguine alle vongole. As the bowl was placed before me, I could smell the distinct aroma of the sea emanating from the steaming clam shells. The pasta, as always, was perfectly al dente and the clams we tender and juicy without a hint of fishy funk. Large slivers of pancetta added a necessary salty kick and the generous garlic chunks took it over the top. It’s going to be hard to order something new after that. See you soon Fiat!

P.S. Coffee panna cotta with strawberry sauce FTW! Thanks Stephane!