THE MERMAID INN

>> 6/28/10

96 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10003
(212) 674-5870


Seafood restaurants can be divided into two basic categories. The grillers and the fryers. The grillers like their salmons, their swordfishes, their bisques. The fryers like their shrimps, their cods, and their chowders. Grillers tend to be more upscale. Fryers tend to be more kid-friendly. Char lines versus batter. The Mermaid Inn is a popcorn-shrimp-free griller.



Bro and Shrink and I took a pleasant schlep from the old abode to 6th Street. It was a nice early evening and the muggy heat had yet to overtake the city like an oven-warmed wet blanket. Nevertheless, we chose the air-conditioned interior over either the sidewalk seating or the rear patio.

Unlike so many lower-end seafood restaurants, Mermaid Inn avoids the need to perpetually remind you that you're eating seafood. No nets, no buoys, no oars, no waters dressed like sailors wearing lobster-themed pieces of flair. Just a seafood menu and some lighthouse-lamp-esque wall sconces.



For her starter, Shrink ordered the Lobster Bisque. Mermaid Inn's version of this particular soup is a dark and spicy sea with islands of lobster bits. Shrink wants me to be sure to mention to you all how much she liked this part of her meal. Bro appreciated it as well. My two cents, for what it's worth, was less positive. I found it too gritty and too bitter. I prefer my lobster bisque smooth and creamy. Bro ordered the Bay Scallop Ceviche, a cold southwest-inspired seafood dish with mango and lime, perfect for the hot summer. If it had been larger, it could have been considered a salad. Instead, served with tortilla chips, it was a pleasant, light appetizer that begged for a beer (or, in this fancier setting, perhaps a blush wine). My appetizer was more seasonally inappropriate. I ordered the Steamed Prince Edward Island Mussels with shallots in a Pernod broth. Good but small. Once you get through the shells, there isn't much to mussels. This particular version was somewhat more bitter and somewhat less sweet than I might make at home. The Pernod, which is a brand of absinthe, a liquor flavored primarily with anise, is almost certainly the reason. If you like your mussels less sweet and more earthy, you'll like these quite a bit.




Much to my dismay, both Bro and Shrink ordered the same entree, the Pan-Roasted Brook Trout with a toasted almond vinaigrette and a cold bean salad. The cold salad was take-it-or-leave-it, and everyone agreed that this would have been better had we been sitting outside. Indoors with the air conditioning, it lost some of its appeal. The trout itself was okay, but not great. It was perfectly cooked, but needed more sauce, as there was virtually none. My entree, on the other hand, was the exact opposite. Everything about it was perfect. If I could have licked the plate without being judged I might have chosen to do so. I ordered the Sauteed Skate Wing, which came on a cushion of sauteed spinach and under a little crown of fried potatoes. The caper-butter sauce it was all coated in was tangy and salty and was intensely good. I can't recommend ordering this enough.




We were never offered a dessert menu. I'm not sure why. Instead three small chocolate puddings appeared before us. We ate them and paid the bill. The pudding was forgettable. I'd have preferred some apple pie and a coffee.

Our meal of three appetizers, three entrees, and two glasses of wine plus tax and tip, came to about $150.

The Mermaid Inn has added two new locations in the past couple of years, one at 568 Amsterdam Avenue at 88th Street and an oyster bar at 79 MacDougal Street.


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POMMES FRITES

>> 6/16/10

POMMES FRITES
123 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10003
(212) 674-1234


I'm not entirely sure if Pommes Frites classifies as a restaurant. They only serve french fries. Still, being that they call themselves Belgian, they seemed an appropriate spot for a quick bite on my way to Petite Abeille for half-priced beer and some World Cup screaming at Petite Abeille.



Like I said, Pommes Frites calls itself Belgian. But this has more to do with their double frying style of making fries than with anything else. Deep down, Pommes Frites is all over the map. I base this on their dipping sauces. See, when you order here, you don't just order and then dunk them in ketchup or malt vinegar the traditional way. No, here you have a choice of two dozen or so dipping sauces. I tried four.



Pictured above on the top right is the Peanut Satay, which was somewhat bitter, too thick and too greasy. I don't really recommend it. In the middle was the Pesto Mayo, a light refreshing dip that worked very well with the saltiness of the fries. They were both blown out of the water by the Sweet Mango Chutney Mayo there in the orange cup. Maybe it was the heat and the humidity and maybe in the winter I'd change by tune, but there was something about the fruity sweet flavor that I just loved. Not pictured is the Roasted Garlic Mayo, which was also very good, but perhaps better suited to those cold winters than to searing summers.




Pommes Frites is tiny. I ate standing up. There are maybe three tables in back and even a small line will push all the way to the door. Still, for a few bucks you can get a quick and filling snack that's got a bit more originality that an anonymous slice of pizza or fast food burger.



A small cone and three sauces was $9.


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WOODHAVEN HOUSE

>> 6/9/10

63-98 Woodhaven Boulevard
Rego Park, NY 11374
(718) 894-5400


If any restaurant in central Queens looks like an old-fashioned steakhouse, the kind that caters to 1920s tycoon types killing time between the office and an Ivy club, it's Woodhaven House on Woodhaven Boulevard. I can almost picture the Packards lining up outside and the tops hats being taken from the bald heads of men who live in tuxedos. The interior is filled from floor to ceiling with dark woods, alabaster, frosted cut glass, brass chandeliers and leather.



In reality though, Woodhaven House is an upscale bar serving upscale bar food (and charging upscale prices). Pike, who will be leaving Park Slope and moving to Forest Hills, came out for some apartment hunting. Afterward, we met up, found Bro, and shot over to Woodhaven for some dinner, some beer, and a hearty political discussion. The crowd at Woodhaven is a decidedly older lot. Most people were in their 40s and up, the high school girls soccer team in one corner and the frat-boy types at the bar notwithstanding.



After getting some drinks, we ordered a round of appetizers. Bro started with Chicken Dumplings, deep fried with a sweet chili dipping sauce. Crispy, chickeny. Nothing fantastamazing, but not a bad thing to nosh on while nursing a beer and waiting for your main dish to arrive. My appetizer was the sweet Bacon Wrapped Sea Scallops, which were fantastic. The bacon wasn't dried to a crisp the way it can be with these types of dishes and the scallops were extremely light. It was almost like eating a very firm custard. Centered around a bit of shredded fried zucchini, this was the fanciest dish of the night. Pike's starter was French Onion Soup, which he said very good but I did not taste it myself. Next time.




For dinner, Pike and Bro went the somewhat traditional pub fare route. Pike ordered Steak Frites Grille, medium rare with fries. Oddly, it came pre-cut into strips. This made it easier for myself and Bro to swipe pieces to try, but it seemed almost like a violation of the steak. Either way, Bro and Pike thought it was great. Tender, well seasoned. I thought it was too salty, but Bro, who consistently claims he can taste even the smallest amount of salt, said he didn't agree with me. Bro ordered Traditional Shepherd's Pie, a baked ground beef and vegetable dish with a mashed potato top. This was my favorite dish of the meal. In fact, I returned a few days later and ordered it for myself. My dinner, the Oven Roasted BBQ Baby Back Ribs, with a side of mashed potatoes, while tasty, won't win in any competition against Dinosaur or Blue Smoke. Still, they were tender and the sauce had a nice amount of zing. The dinner portion is large and I wasn't able to finish the whole thing.




We did not have dessert for some reason.

Three drinks, three appetizers, three entrees, plus tax and tip came to just a bit over $115.



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Ante Up, Double Down

>> 6/7/10

Ante Up, Double Down

I succumbed. I bought, I consumed, the KFC Double Down Sandwich, the sandwich that replaces bread with fried chicken. How was it, you ask? It was, to use the guilt/taste ratio scale, the scale used most often by depressed single thirty-somethings on a Haagen Dazs binge (the more guilt you feel after - or during - eating the item, the better it is), extremely guilt inducing. Cheese, bacon, fried chicken, more cheese and more fried chicken... lots of guilt = lots of yum.



Think of the Double Down as a chicken cordon blue you can walk around with. There are no vegetables of any kind, not even a pickle, unless mustard counts (and it doesn't). I'm shocked (SHOCKED) that no one made this during the Atkins craze five years ago. They'd have made a billion dollars off of people thinking that this meal could conform to any sort of "diet". To be sure, the Double Down manages to have no redeeming social value whatsoever beyond purely prurient, unadulterated pleasure one gets from eating it.

Enjoy it while you can (in moderation), because I have a feeling that this is a fadwich and won't be around in a few months. I just don't think it has the staying power of a more traditional sandwich. Plus, your fingers get all greasy (the wax paper wrapper is a nice attempt, but almost useless).

Can I tell you guys something? I was actually a little disappointed. See, in the beginning, I was under the impression that KFC started with a hamburger, then replaced the bun with chicken (PS- I trademark this idea as of right now). Before I go on, can you imagine that? Imagine that guilt/flavor ratio! Sorry though, that's not the case.

Until now!!!
Scroll down, my pretties...



There you have it! My greatest, most warped creation! BWA-HAHAHAHAHAAAA-HAAHAA!!! At its heart, a simple McDonald's Quarter Pounder. But, clothed in the Double Down like a chainmail robed knight, it becomes an unstoppable force of caloric power! Beef, partnered with bacon, lathered in two kinds of cheese, surrounded by chicken and flavored with onion, pickle, some tangy sauce and ketchup...

Oh, yes. It tastes good. It tastes very good. You have no idea how good.

And I'm trademarking this concept right now.

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CHAR NO. 4

>> 6/1/10

CHAR NO. 4
196 Smith Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(718) 643-2106


I was tired. I had just returned from a twenty mile bike ride along the Jamaica Bay section of Gateway National Park and was lying on my sofa. My eyes had wandered across the floor to where my bar was and they were making a fantasy cocktail. I might have gotten myself a real one, but that would have required moving and I wasn't about to get up just yet.



The phone rang. I grunted a hello. It was Bro. His plans for the evening had fallen though and he didn't want his weekend to go to waste. "Let's get drinks," he said. I had plans for the weekend too though. They consisted of napping, chipping away at my seemingly endless Netflix queue, and eating a jar of pickles, in that order. "Only if it's in Brooklyn," I replied as I began thinking of the list of places I had yet to try. Huckleberry Bar, Clover Club, Weather Up... Then it came to me. Char No. 4. Drinks and dinner. Bro agreed to the suggestion. Our man-date was ready. I hung up and took a nap.



Is Char No. 4 a restaurant with a massive whiskey list or a whiskey bar with a menu? It was time to find out. If you like whiskey, then this Cobble Hill Southern-inspired gastropub was well be your version of heaven, with whiskeys from across the globe ranging in price from $3 to $100 per ounce. If you go here with a friend who isn't really into whiskey, they have a large wine list and a decent list of craft beers as well. Worry not, everyone still can have their hair held back at the curb by the end of the night.




As I said earlier, Char No. 4 is a southern-inspired restaurant. It almost begs you to drink bourbon with your meal. Actually, its cocktail list is entirely bourbon-based drinks so it practically requires it. I had the Noreaster, a bourbon, ginger beer, lime and maple syrup concoction which was fantastic, while Bro had the Louisville Sunset, made with bourbon, pineapple juice, cranberry juice, lemon juice and bitters. Also very good, but I liked mine more.

For an appetizer, Bro ordered the Cornflake Crusted Crab Cake with a lemon bay leaf sauce. Very good and about the size of your fist. The sauce was a bit too tangy for my palate, but that can be solved by simply using less of it. The truth is that it didn't need any sauce at all. My appetizer was the House Smoked Thick Cut Bacon which sat on a bed of warm sauteed and spiced mushrooms. It was, simply put, the best bacon I've ever had. Sure, I tend to eat the charred shitty stuff that diners give me and usually I bury it in egg yolk, but man oh man. The bacon was about a half inch thick with just the right level of saltines. Bro felt that it was too fatty, but I disagree. Fat is part of the bacon experience. I don't recommend having it every day, but for every once in a while, this is the fat to have.



For dinner, Bro ordered the Jambalaya with andouille sausage, shrimp and clams, pictured above. This old-school southern dish was insanely good. It looks somewhat small, but it's actually pretty filling in no small part because jambalaya is mostly rice. My dinner was Chopped Pork Sandwich with a side of baked beans and pickled peppers. The sandwich, drenched in the house-made mustard-barbecue sauce was just amazing. The downside was its size. It's small enough that you'll spend more time licking sauce off your fingers than eating. The same with its sides. Tiny. Almost non-existent (and the pickled peppers I could have done without). It's a good thing that I also ordered an extra side of Bacon Jalapeno Cornbread. Aside from adding to the meal, it was excellent.

For dessert, Bro took a pass, but I ordered a coffee and the Key Lime Pie in a graham cracker crust and with a charred marshmallow top. This may well have been the best key lime pie I've had since actually being in the Keys. Good job, Char. Yumyumyum.

Of course, what's the point of crossing the boroughs in the F train to visit a whiskey bar without whiskey? None, I say. Char has flights, one ounce each of an American, Irish and Scotch whiskey, but I decided to go my own route. I ordered an ounce of (ri)1, a new high end Rye by Jim Beam, an ounce of Hudson Corn Whiskey, a moonshine-like clear whiskey with a heavy vanilla undertone, made by Tuthilltown Spirits in midstate New York, an ounce of Suntory Yamikaze 18 year old single malt, a Japanese whiskey that went down smoothly and cleanly, and an ounce of Tullibardine 1993, a 14 year old scotch that rolled around in the peat bogs of the old country plotting for the day when it could give my chest even more hair than it has. My favorite had to be the rye, but my buddy Mr. Dogz would have probably picked the Scotch since that's his thing. Bro preferred the Hudson Valley moonshine.



Two appetizers, two entrees, two cocktails, a diet cola, four ounces of various whiskeys, a coffee and a dessert, tax and tip cost us about $155.


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