Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Monday, 17 September 2012

On the other hand..

Having thoroughly disparaged a segment of the American populace for their love of coronary inducing deep fried food-on-a-stick, it is now time to celebrate all that is good about American food.  While for the most part the meals are seriously too big, this is not always the case and it is possible to find small, tasty plates.  This does not have to be in expensive restaurants or fine dining establishments. 

Smoked salmon tartine at Toni's
For example, while looking for breakfast in downtown Chicago and wanting something other than an over priced hotel buffet or a  Dunkin' Donuts, I happened on Toni Patisserie and Cafe on East Washington St.  While they offer a full range of light and flaky pastries, what catches my eye is  the range of tartines - open face sandwiches. The salmon is delicious: fresh bread with a light spread of cream cheese, thinly sliced but generous portions of elegant smoked salmon, topped with nicely acidic tomato, lemon and spring onion (In American speak) salsa.  Perfect. 

Sesame crusted seared tuna fillet
As I mentioned  a couple of posts ago when blogging about Maine, almost everyone who travels to this easternmost state eats as much lobster as they can.  I like lobster, though not as much as New Zealand crayfish, so seek other seafood pleasures.  I find a delicious sesame crusted tuna served in a beach side restaurant that is otherwise a tourist trap of gigantic proportions.  The tuna is perfectly cooked. More accurately, the outside is perfectly cooked and the centre perfectly raw.  This could have been a plate in a much more up-market restaurant, but the rather clumsy garnish and plastic pot of soy sauce tell the story of the restaurant's purpose  - serve them up and turn over tables.

Beef in a bun is arguably the food that defines America.  Well it isn't much of an argument: the argument is more around just how many burgers are eaten in the U.S. in a year.  McDonald's accounts for about 3 billion, and I find estimates for totals ranging from 14 billion to 58 billion.  Either way, it is a lot of minced beef, ketchup and buns.  

Bill's classic burger
Burgers come with all kinds of add-on ingredients including, as we know and love in New Zealand, beetroot, or  pineapple or egg.  In my opinion, basic is better. And at Bill's Bar and Burger in the Meatpacking District of New York, that's what we find. Bill's classic has a meat pattie (very juicy), cheese, pickle and ketchup and is pretty good, though maybe not the absolute best you'll ever eat.  I like it for its straightforward simplicity of flavours and easy-to-eat size - you don't need a hinged jaw to eat it. 

By the way, the Meatpacking District is now known as a fashion area rather than for its slaughterhouses, which was the case until the late 1990s. My New York  ex-pat Kiwi friend and I find ourselves on the lower west side as we have just walked the High Line.  This does not have anything to do with drugs.  Unless your drug of choice is the airy streets above the west side of Manhattan.

La Newyorkina ices
Initially built in the 1930s as part of a massive public-private infrastructure project called the West Side Improvement, the High Line lifted rail freight traffic 30 feet in the air, removing dangerous trains from the streets of Manhattan's largest industrial district.  However, no trains have run on the High Line since 1980, and in 1999 it was developed into a public park.  With attractive landscaping and planted out with hardy trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers, it provides a mile and a half long boardwalk (for walkers only - no bikes) giving a unique aspect onto the streets below.  No hawkers allowed, and only approved food sellers, such as La Newyorkina  - artisan ices inspired by Mexican flavours such as mango, chili, lime and tamarind. I was in two minds about trying the tamarind, but as it was such an unusual idea I went with it. I should've stuck with the mango.  The tamarind was a bit more insipid than I had expected, rather than that sharp, tangy flavour you expect.

Loungers at the 11th street end of the High Line

It is fortunate my friend has had a year in New York to locate drinkable coffee.  Finding good coffee was, of course, a major concern for a Wellingtonian moving to the Big Apple.  However, perseverance and multiple cups of terrible java consumed in pursuit of the Holy Grail, she found Sweetleaf, right there in her Long Island City neighbourhood.  She had even trained them to make flat whites!  This meant I was able to drink coffee again after two weeks of abstinence brought on by being faced with flavoured drinks masquerading as coffee (for example in the Seattle-based chain the name of which I do not speak), or bitter, thin beverages served in large mugs or massive takeaway containers.

Lobbying poster in a Dunkin' Donuts window
On that note, an interesting phenomenon has emerged in New York.  Mayor Bloomberg has been trying to introduce legislation that bans the super-size sugary drinks so favoured by "coffee" houses and fast food outlets.  Breaking news this week is that he has been successful, and despite lobbying by soft drink manufacturers, the Board of Health has a formal ban that restricts soda drink servings to a maximum of 16 ounces (475ml, close to half a litre) in fast-food and other restaurants and places of such as stadiums. A normal can is 330ml, yet some outlets serve a whopping 64oz (1.8 litre!) size drink, so this is a substantial reduction on the buckets that people commonly guzzle from in cinemas, sports arenas and so on.  The rule takes effect in 6 months time and attracts a $US200 fine for a breach.  
This cookie is half the size of my iPad

The purpose of the rule is to impact obesity.  While you have my support Mayor Bloomberg, good luck with that while everything else is still in super-sized portions. For example, cookies that are half the size of an iPad.

But any way, I digress. There is great food to be had across the US, it is just that the fast food joints out weigh (pun intended) the establishments that focus on quality rather than quantity.  You just have to seek then out. Sometimes it takes a year, sometimes it's just your lucky day. 

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