Food tour – New York City

Food tours are so great, we had to do another. We were in NYC last week for the kids’ spring break, and we did another tour from the company that did my Madrid tour – Devour Tour Greenwich Village.

It started off with some weirdness that was handled quite well by our guide. He was talking to us about the arch at Washington Square Park and a gentleman not in the tour started to listen. I imagine this happens all the time and the guide shot him down gently and quickly, noting that you had to pay for the tour in advance. As the guy left, I realized how weird he was. If you told me he had just stepped off the set of a vampire movie set in the 1800’s I would have simply nodded. He was carrying a fancy bible and a watch on a gold chain. He was very polite but I was glad he moved on quickly, his vibe was super creepy.

Anyway, on to the food. There is no shortage of sketchy people in any city.

I can’t believe I forgot to get a photo of the first item – a bacon egg and cheese on homemade bread from Court Street Grocers. Fluffy eggs, crisp bacon, bread with just a bit of chewy toughness – highly recommend.

Next stop, Brigadeiro Bakery for some brigadieros.

Brigadeiros on a plate from Brigadeiro Bakery

You know how I ate croquetas in Madrid? Think of these as the sweet version. The inside is something like a béchamel sauce except made with sweetened condensed milk. These were delicious and probably my favorite bite of the tour. We also had this delicious cheesy bread that I didn’t catch the name of and don’t see on their online menu. Our guide said this was something eaten by slaves who didn’t even have flour so it was gluten free. Yes, this framing is slightly problematic. They were delightful anyway.

Dense and delicious Brazilian cheesy bread

Next stop was Rafetto’s, where we met the 3rd generating Rafetto (The 4th generation had the day off), and tasted their pasta.

A small dish of ravioli in red sauce

Next stop, Manousheh for zataar flatbread.

A flat bread folded over with a green spice blend inside. Next to it is a cup of yogurt with oil and a spoon to add it to the bread.

We were told that the owner of the restaurant imported the oven from Lebanon as that’s the only way to properly cook the bread, and that Lebanese immigrants from states away make the trek here to get a taste of home. It was delicious, though I think the distribution of the spices was a little uneven, as Gremlin 1 nearly choked on hers, and I don’t think she has a particularly sensitive palate. She still finished it, so she must have liked it.

We then stopped at the Porto Rico Importing Company. If you do not like coffee or the smell of coffee then I recommend you give this one a miss. Otherwise, highly recommended. We had chocolate covered espresso beans and I got a latte (not included with the tour but a good addition).

Next was Rocco’s Pasticceria and Cafe for cannolis. They fill theirs by hand when you order so the cream isn’t just sitting there getting the crust soggy. You can taste the care they put in.

Three cannolis on a plate next to my wife’s phone

No NYC food tour could be complete without a slice or two, and Bleeker Street Pizza didn’t disappoint. The crust was crispier than I’m used to in NYC, which did make it easier to eat.

A bunch of slices of pizza topped with cheese, tomatoes, and herbs

And finally we ended at The Blind Tiger for grilled cheese and tomato soup. I was NOT hungry at this point but I ate it anyway because 1) you’re supposed to and 2) it was really good

A bowl of tomato soup on a plate. There is half a grilled cheese sandwich on the plate. In the background is a large can of Sip of Sunshine IPA

The Sip of Sunshine was extra but a lovely addition. I keep forgetting that while you can’t get this beer in DC, it’s all over NYC. One thing I learned about the bar – the name comes from Prohibition, where bars would advertise that you could come pay a fee to see the blind tiger and when you came in, they’d give you alcohol. I can’t imagine how this worked – maybe it was just enough plausible deniability that the cops just let it go?

Next time you travel, GO DO A FOOD TOUR. Especially if you’re alone. You get new friends, at least for a few hours, and you’ll get to see and learn stuff about wherever you’re visiting that you likely wouldn’t otherwise.

Madrid food tour

As I mentioned in the last post, food tours are a really cool way to learn about a city and a culture while ALSO eating too much. Most of them are active, though, so you have an excuse.

Our first stop was El Riojano for this little cake and a cup full of chocolate. You are supposed to dip the cake and then drink the rest of the chocolate. I could not bring myself to drink the chocolate as it seemed too early in the morning to be that rude.

a little cake and a teacup full of chocolate on a white plate that reads "El Riojano"

Our second stop was a complete failure in terms of food but interesting in terms of the city. This is the secret cookie shop. Unfortunately, the sign on the door reads “Hoy no hay dulces” (“Today there are no sweets”). This is a convent and the nuns make a bit of extra cash by making cookies. However, they are not always open, and we had unfortunate timing. Still, interesting stop. You are not allowed to SEE the nuns, which makes buying cookies a small challenge, but the nuns have it figured out. Or so our guide told us, as we didn’t get to witness it.

A brown door. There is a small white paper sign on the door and a portrait of Jesus above. A security camera looks down from the left.

Next was Los Ferreros, the oldest grocery store in Madrid. It’s been in operation since 1892. The current proprietor is the descendant of the original. We had some delicious cheeses on top of a sort of cracker. We had a moment of unpleasantness – one of the others on the tour decided that the proprietor was riding the coattails of his ancestors and the location and wasn’t really deserving of his continued operation. This was the most embarrassed by American tourists I was during this trip. Luckily the antagonist aggressively spoke no Spanish, the proprietor either didn’t speak English or didn’t listen, and our tour guide softened the challenge when she translated. I had been a little worried when we started the tour as the antagonist had two young boys, maybe 9 and 11? I was worried they would be disruptive but they not only were not disruptive, they were eager to try the food and chatted with the tour guide. It’s too bad their father didn’t take after them.

A small storefront with a sign above reading "Los Ferreros". The windows of the store are full

Spain doesn’t really do street food, and depsite our tour guide insisting that this was the ONE street food they do, I’m not convinced. We stopped at Cerveceria la Campana (C. de Botoneras, 6, Centro, 28012 Madrid, Spain) for a calamari sandwich. It has some aspects of street food – a fried thing in bread – but no one but us was eating on the street. The place was busy with people sitting down, and when we ate, it was clear why – it’s really difficult to eat an overstuffed sandwich when you don’t have a plate. The sandwich was just ok – it was hard to apply the garlic mayo BECAUSE I DIDN’T HAVE A PLATE and without it, I thought the sandwich was under-seasoned. Nevertheless, it’s tough to go wrong with fried seafood.

A closeup of a hand holding a sub roll overflowing with fried calamari

I will preface this by saying I HATE olives. Hate them. There are very few foods that I hate, and olives are probably the top of the list. But I bravely persevered through our olive tasting. We visited La Queseria de Anton Martin. First was the olive for people who don’t like olives. I didn’t like them. Then I tried another olive that’s supposed to be less olive-y than some, and I didn’t like that either. I stopped there – I gave an honest effort, and this didn’t change my mind about olives.

Next we had anchovies over potato chips. This was much better. Spanish anchovies aren’t the crispy salt-bombs you may be familiar with – it’s a larger piece of fish and prepared by pickling. It’s pretty mild. They served them over a pile of potato chips, kind of like a cheese-less nacho, and they were really nice.

We finished with a vermouth. I have always thought of vermouth as something you put near a glass of gin so you can call it a martini, but drinking it with an orange peel over ice is not unpleasant.

The counter at La Queseria, full of cheese and olive oil and many other products

Next stop – Moega empanadas (C. del León, 26, Centro, 28014 Madrid, Spain). These were not a traditional empanada as I’m used to, but they were quite good. The dough was more like a bread. Maybe that’s Spanish and I’m used to Latin American? No matter, because the chorizo and cheese was delightful.

A closeup of a hand holding an empanada filled with meat and cheese. Blurred in the background is a serving platter with more empanadas

We went to Taberna de la Elisa for croquetas and wine. I used the restroom here and ran into a problem that seems common in Spain – the bathroom lights are on timers, and the timer is set for a time much shorter than your average bathroom break. Two or three times on this trip I was in the restroom and the lights went out, leaving me in a strange place, pitch dark. I survived. The croquetas and wine were very nice, but I didn’t get a photo record.

Our final stop was Estela Hojaldre for dessert pastry. I didn’t catch what it was called, but it was about 1,000 layers of flaky pastry with a custard in the middle. It was, again, not something easy to eat without a table and a plate, but the flavor was excellent and I am a big fan of the texture. Soft custard with layers and layers of crunchy, flaky crust in between. I made a mess of my shirt but it was totally worth it.

I would absolutely do another food tour sponsored by Devour Tours. Our guide was great. She and the other guide had to pivot last minute because there was a group of maybe 12 split across the two tour guides – they switched it up so the large group could go togehter and all of us (me, two couples, and a family of four) shared a tour.

Again, I highly recommend a food tour when you’re in a strange city. You have instant friends. You learn about the local food and culture. And you’ll be well-fed. You can’t go wrong.

Food in Spain

I recently had the opportunity to spend about a week in Madrid and Barcelona, and in that time I ate a lot of food. I was there to retrieve the older child after her two week student exchange program. I arrived in Madrid Monday morning, March 18. I picked her up Wednesday (at 4am before the rest of her trip left for the airport, the things we do for our children).

That first day I was tired and unable to check in to the hotel until 3pm, but I could at least drop my bags. I headed to the Reina Sofia, which may be considered the Prado’s little sister museum, but it’s fantastic. This is the first time I’ve been to 1) a foreign country and 2) a museum all on my own. It was fun, I recommend it, though I was happy to have company later in the week.

After the museum, I wandered for a bit, looking for some food. I ended up at La Buga del Lobo (C. de Argumosa, 11, Centro, 28012 Madrid, Spain). This was the first time I expereinced the wonderful Spanish tradition where if you just order a beer, they bring you snacks. This time it was just a little snack mix, but I was starving and it was salty. I ordered the degustacion de croquetas, which is a plate of all three types of croquetas they serve. This was my first opportunity to try out my rusty and very limited Spanish. I wanted to know if what I was ordering was appropriate for one person or if I was about to get a mound of croquetas. I wasn’t honestly sure what a croqueta was at this point. I managed to express myself effectively enough that she was able to answer, and I was able to understand her answer. This was one of my most successful interactions with anyone in Spanish during the whole trip and I was quite pleased with myself.

Six croquetas on a white plate on top of a colorful tablecloth

If you haven’t bothered to click through to read what a croqueta is, they are essentially a béchamel sauce, breaded and fried. They are delightful, and I recommend them unless you have food texture issues. I wouldn’t mind a little more structure to the béchamel, but the flavors were really nice.

That night I ate dinner at the Hotel Catalonia Atocha where I was staying. It was pleasant but the food was sort of boring. The wine was really nice, and I had a chat with the server about wine, and how the Spanish wine is excellent and inexpensive and wine back in the DC area is not quite so excellent. People in Madrid were much more willing to speak with me in Spanish than people in Barcelona were. I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to dig in to what this says about each city (hint: it says nothing, it’s just a small anecdote from someone who speaks a little bit of Spanish, poorly).

Day two was my Madrid food tour, which deserves its own post (link to come once I write the post). I really like doing food tours when traveling to other cities. It’s a great way to see a bit of the city you might not otherwise and you’re bound to learn a little bit about local culture and tradition. And the food, of course. It’s also a nice way to have some company in a strange place if you aren’t the type to just make friends with strangers. This was my second European food tour that had a couple from Belgium on it, so I could talk about how my last name is Belgian, brought over to the UK in the early 1600’s by my 10th or so gre

After the food tour I took a nap and then went to the Prado. At my food tour guide’s suggestion, I started in the basement with Goya’s Pinturas Negras, which are fascinating and a bit out of the ordinary for the museum.

I had seen a brewery pop up on Google Maps at some point (La Osita, C. de la Cava Baja, 10, Centro, 28005 Madrid, Spain), and I had to try it out, knowing that it would be less of a traditional Spanish experience, but not caring. Turns out literally everyone there, customers and staff, spoke English. I briefly chatted with an American who was thinking of moving to DC when his girlfriend was finished her degree in Madrid. Small world.

A beer in a pint glass on a bar in front of a row of beer cans. There is also a small plate of bread and meat

Here I got another little snack with my beer – bread and some kind of meat. This is a custom that we could adopt here in the US, just putting that out there. The beer was good if you like American-style IPAs, which I do. I can tell myself that I wanted to get the Spanish take on an American style, but really it’s just that’s what I like to drink. I tell myself that it’s not at all like the stereotype of Americans traveling the world to complain how you can’t get a decent hamburger.

One last Madrid snack with drink at Bar Benteveo (C. de Sta. Isabel, 15, Centro, 28012 Madrid, Spain). Bread with something like hummus but it probably had meat in it.

A glass of wine on a red bar top with a small plate containing a piece of bread with a spread on top

And my dinner – a lomito (pork) sandwich with chips. I don’t know if I’m supposed to have sharper teeth or something but this was a little hard to eat. I kept getting more meat in a single bite than I was really prepared for. But it was quite good. You can get this with an egg on top as well – that sounded great but a little more than I was looking for at that point. Maybe next time.

A glass of wine on a red bar top next to a plate containing a meat sandwich and a small cup of chips

Next – food tour!

My new favorite food

The kids got me into hot sauce. It started with Taco Night. The Wife and I wanted to do more family dinners, where we all sat down and ate the same thing at the same time, as a family. Those of you with small children know this is sometimes no easy task. So The Wife started Taco Night. Lots of beans, some cheese, a bit of protein, and the kids are happy. But the kids like bland. A little cumin, maybe some salt and a pinch of pepper, and they’re good. The Wife and I, not so much.

Enter Cholula Original Hot Sauce. With Cholula, the kids could have their bland tacos, and The Wife and I could have something with a little kick, but she didn’t have to cook a second meal. It was a hit.

But hot sauce is like heroin or tattoos. You don’t just do a little bit and then stop. You want more. Soon I was dreaming of hot sauce. I was buying chipotle potato chips. Drenching my eggs in sriracha. Asking for my chicken over rice extra spicy from the multitude of kabob food trucks that descended on L’Enfant Plaza every day at lunch until DCRA folded under pressure from the restaurants and invented all sorts of silly regulations. And then I started making my own.

It’s surprisingly easy to make hot sauce. I highly recommend Hot Sauce! by Jennifer Trainer Thompson if you’re looking to start making your own. And also Freund Container for the bottles you’ll inevitably need.

So I made some sauces. Some were better than others. I tried a Carribean hot sauce from the book and didn’t like it at first, but it really, really grew on me. Now I want to put it on everything. But I wanted to make something that was my own, not just a recipe from the book. Here is my latest creation. It needs a name.

  • Five habaneros
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup of vinegar
  • a small onion
  • 20 ounce can of pineapple chunks, drained
  • turmeric, to taste
  • two cloves of garlic
  • a pinch of salt

Throw it all in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Then simmer, uncovered, for about ten minutes. This should make about a cup and a half of deliciousness. The sweet, Jennifer Thompson tells me, delays the burn from the habaneros. I just ate a sweet potato burger that The Wife made with a generous glob of this hot sauce on it, and it was glorious. With a little planning, I could see myself bottling this stuff and selling it. It’s that good. Hot enough so you know you’re alive, but not so hot you wish you weren’t.

Sign a petition for intelligence in agriculture

Petition to “Get a Secretary of Real Food appointed” in Obama Administration BoingBoing points us to “a petition at that asks Obama’s transition team to consider six candidates – all experienced, viable names of people who are ready and willing to serve – for Secretary of Agriculture who could potentially mend our broken food system. Already, after only six days, 36,000 people have signed the petition, including Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, and Bill Niman, and the Obama transition team appears to be paying attention.” If you’ve ever looked at the ingredients on a loaf of bread, the portion sizes at a restaurant, or any number of other things, it becomes pretty obvious that the way we eat and the way we produce food is horribly broken. I am honestly scared of the things that my daughter will be expected to consume when she goes off to school, and she has the advantage of coming from a home where both parents eat well, lots of vegetables, not so much processed stuff, organic when available, etc. What about the millions who don’t know how or can’t afford to eat well? If the Obama transition team really is listening, this is a petition worth signing. I encourage you to sign it. I just did.

Dinner at The Heights on a lovely Thursday night

Birthing class got out early tonight, and we don’t have any food in the house. It’s a combination of my bum foot and the wife’s almost-full-term baby that leads to us not going to the grocery store. So we went to The Heights for dinner around 8pm. Thursday night is generally a nice night out, and tonight is some of the nicest weather we’ve had in a while. The Heights was full but not overcrowded. Most of the seats were taken, indoors and out. It was a diverse crowd – a pregnant couple with a friend on one side of us, a gay couple on the other. A woman and two young boys were being seated as we left. A couple walked in just in front of us, apparently having walked from somewhere nearby (I choose to believe that they walked from home rather than parking in the neighborhood). The food and the service were good. The wife says she’s not sure that we’ve ever had a bad server there, and I certainly can’t think of anything to contradict her. And I was impressed by their mixed greens salad that comes with all the entrees. It was plain lettuce, but it had cherry tomatoes, jicama, and beets, which is pretty exotic and healthful for your average restaurant. The buffalo shrimp appetizer was delicious, although a little light on shrimp. I recommend saving some bread to mop up the extra sauce rather than eating it with a fork, as someone at my table for two did this evening. Their rotating beer taps were not entirely exciting this time – Brooklyn Lager and a Sam Adams seasonal – but the idea of rotating taps is cool. The table next to us was raving about the bread pudding sundae, which we didn’t order because we were both full. And we found that Merkado, a restaurant in Logan Circle owned by the same people, is closing at the end of August. In its place will be “a neighborhood place” called Commissary, hoping to emulate Busboys and Poets and Tryst. They hope to grab all the trendy kids who will move into the new building across from Whole Foods and take all their money. I’m a little sad that Merkado is closing – the wife and I had a lovely dinner there for my 29th birthday – but this sounds like an interesting replacement, although calling it “Commissary” is a little too hipster for my tastes.

Five Guys is a delicous disaster

I’m working from home today, which gave me a chance to check out our new Five Guys for lunch. It was busy, but I got through the line quickly. And then I waited. They seemed to be getting orders out pretty fast, but I was number 88, and they served 79 right as I paid. So I waited. When I finally got my lunch, I checked the bag to find two burgers instead of one. Since no one else would eat a second burger (I’m home alone, the wife wouldn’t eat the meat anyway, and the cat probably wouldn’t care), I took the bag back to the counter. As they were trying to figure out what happened, a woman missing a burger from her bag came up beside me. It wasn’t difficult to figure out what happened, and they quickly fixed it. So I came home and ate my delicious pile of fried calories. And now I have to get back to work.

Delicious frozen custard

We waited too long to try out the “new” Rita’s Water Ice in Columbia Heights. Their frozen custard is awesome. It’s like ice cream, but creamier. If that doesn’t sound awesome to you, you must be either crazy or lactose-intolerant. Or vegan. But probably crazy. As we were walking, the wife and were talking about how nice it is to see so many people out and about. The intersection of 14th and Irving is full of people, all the time. Even a year and a half ago when we moved here there weren’t half as many people around. Of course, that was before Target and everything opened. And it doesn’t hurt that this is the nicest evening we’ve had in a while – it’s cool and breezy and we’ve already opened the window in the bedroom in anticipation of sleeping without the air conditioning.

Pregnant wife bonus

One of the nice things about having a pregnant wife is that, when a recipe calls for white wine, she can’t help you finish the bottle. Just kidding. We have a bottle of white wine, a 2006 Primaterra pinot grigio. So, now we can calculate the Complaint Hub Wine Score.

  1. Alcohol Review gives it 3.25 stars. We’ll convert that to a 100 point scale, multiplying by 20 to get 65. They say it costs $7, and it was on sale at Whole Foods, so we’ll give it a PPD of 9.29. That’s a pretty decent score.
  2. It’s Italian, so no California Penalty.
  3. Again, no Australia or New Zealand Bonus.
  4. It’s got a pretty solid label. It’s a cheap wine, so I don’t expect much, and the label is different, but it’s not doofy. Plus 10.
  5. Multiply by Planck’s Constant.
  6. Planck’s Constant is really small. No one wants a wine score in scientific notation. So let’s open up Open Office Spreadsheet and do some formula magic. First, let’s take the arc cotangent, which gives us 1.57. You can quibble about significant digits in the comments.
  7. That’s still not a good number. So we divide one by the natural log of that, which gives us 2.21.
  8. I’m not a huge fan of white wine, so let’s multiply by 50 and subtract a 25 point White Wine Penalty.
    Then we round down, because the digits after the decimal were never really significant anyway. And we’re left with 63. So you see, this is clearly a good wine rating system, since it’s right in line with the score from another website! The wine tastes fine. Not too sweet, not too dry. It pairs well with a seitan picatta from Veggie Times. It probably has some flavor notes of something. Maybe fruit? White’s usually have fruit notes, right? In conclusion, it’s a nice value at $7.

Awful website, great restaurant

The wife and I had dinner at Rumba Cafe in Adams Morgan last night. It was a 1000 point reservation at Open Table, which puts us almost to a $50 gift certificate to any restaurant that deals with Open Table, which is awesome. The Rumba Cafe website seems to be under maintenance this morning (I think it should be euthanized, personally (And did you know that “euthanized” isn’t in the default Firefox dictionary? Weird)), but no matter. We sat outside, since it was so nice last night. The service was very good, the beer mediocre, and the food was excellent. I had the steak with a fried egg on top, served with rice and black beans and a fried plantain. Reminded me of Costa Rican “casados”, which I love. The wife had some kind of fish, I forget what, but it was good, too. I highly recommend Adams Morgan when it’s not overrun with kids (By kids I mean 23-year-olds). 8PM on a Tuesday it’s alive with people (Plenty of kickballers and others just out for dinner or a drink) but doesn’t have that “everyone around you is wasted” vibe that it gets on the weekend. It was just a nice spring evening.