Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Papa Kebab: is this the best falafel in New York?

I am not one for writing odious, "Daily Mail" like headlines, but I really want falafel connoisseurs to eat these and let me know what you think.

As you know, falafels are as common year-round as pumpkin spice lattes in fall - those crunchy, golden bally things that make vegetarians feel superior and placate meat-eaters forced to share a table with them.

Fresh falafels are green and moist inside: from Papa Kebab

They're typically yellow or golden brown outside, and often the same inside. Except at Papa Kebab, an unpretentious little eaterie in West Chelsea whose unfortunately pedestrian name belies the excellence of its food. More about that in a minute.

"If they're yellow inside it's from a mix, these are fresh," says the owner.

Prodded for the recipe, she revealed that they contain fresh cooked chickpeas, ground up celery, cilantro and spices. The result is a crunchy falafel with amazing moistness, complexity and depth inside, neither too spicy nor tangy (like the extremely inferior falafel from PRET - you'd think a giant corporation could get spice balance right). Six of them are served sizzling on a plate with a yogurt sauce for $6. They are truly worth a buck each, and thus, qualify as "cheap'n'choosy."

Red Lentil Soup - not your average brown, lumpy, earthy lentil slop. 

The next standout cheap'n'choosy offering is their traditional Turkish lentil soup, called Mercimek Gorbasi, according to the young server I asked.

Unlike the typical brown, heavy, lentilly, celery-carrot-and-oniony, stewy kind of lentil soup you find at most places (including Wholefoods) this is an amazing tangy, lemony, tomatoey, minty concoction that's like a warm gazpacho meets tikka masala meets Moroccon mint tea. That's the best I can describe it. It's made of red lentils, carrots, mint and spices, pureed really fine.

I have tried to replicate this from authentic recipes on the internet and could never got mine to taste like this. I've even ordered it cold in the heat of summer, with ice cubes in it, like a gazpacho. The kitchen looked at me like I was some weird eccentric, but having worked in food, I know how you can flip and bend staples to create seemingly new palate-pleasers (witness the cronut, sushi burrito, ramenburger...).   A generous bowl served with hot house pita is $6.

Kazan Dibi - a creamy, perfectly unsweet flan dusted with pistachios

So what's for dessert? The Kazan Dibi, "a Turkish, caramelized, upside down milk pudding sprinkled with ground pistachio" is a must. This is really what dessert is all about - not too sweet, and reminding you of something milky and comforting your mother served up after roast chicken, carrots and potatoes. An absolute bargain at $5, considering desserts in restaurants regularly top $11-13 these days (probably because no one has a dessert to themselves anymore - everyone seems to share).

So there you have it. These 3 things will set you back $17 plus tax and tip and you will savor every mouthful.

The other food at Papa Kebab is also excellent, for example the skewers, particularly the Joojeh Chicken Kebab, $11  ("tender medallions of grilled, chicken breast, marinated in saffron, yogurt and onion")  the Turkish do seem to know how to cook breast meat so that it is not dry. For your omega-3 hit, I like the Salmon Wrap.

Don't let the name, which conjures up visions of beige-tiled gyro joints serving ho-hum lettuce and tomato on pita and smelling of Fabuloso at the end of the day - cause you to stroll by. I am not into pretentious BS but in this case I wish they'd change their identity to something hipster and Brooklynish if only so they get more business and stay in business. This neighborhood (RIP Colas, Nooch, Bombay Talkie, La Lunchonette etc etc) has already lost too many great restaurants.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

$3.50: MUJI's minimalist metrosexual toothbrush

TWO MONTHS after returning from my whirlwind bike+bullet train visit to Japan, I'm still turning Japanese. I'm cooking up a nabe storm in my Kyoto nabemono, I'm drinking sencha+matcha at all the wrong moments (like before going to bed) and I'm leafing luxuriantly through the copy of The Aesthetics of the Japanese Lunchbox by Kenji Ekuan "one of Japan's foremost industrial designers".

Ekuan-san romances the minimalist, orderly tension of the bento box with such a lyrical reverence I wouldn't be surprised if he had something to do with the design of this toothbrush.

This is just toothbrush. Thank god.  It's not an mp3 player to groove along to while you floss. It's not a vibrating wand with meat-seeking infra-red technology to hunt and destroy trapped flesh of dead animal from your fajita binge. It's not an exercise in Pantone mayhem and ergonomic design overkill that typifies the average Oral-Turbo-ABC.

It's actually even less than your average, ugly, overwrought toothbrush. It's a barely-there, colorless handle, smooth and minimally sculpted, with no weird kinks and bends, ending in a brush that can actually duck behind the molars in the balcony seats. In fact, the bristles themselves are "rounded" to further reach those spots where floss fears to thread, although Muji also sells a slightly cheaper, "flat bristle" version - why, I have no idea.

The complete absence of color is restful. Perhaps it really is designed for die-hard metrosexual bachelors, who have no need for a pink or other colored version sitting in the rack to know which is theirs.

Radical idea: Imagine using merely the dictionary definition as a design brief?

toothbrush |ˈtoōθˌbrə | noun
a small brush with a long handle used for cleaning the teeth.

Before spotting this piece of marvellously modest Muji minimalism, both Stateside and Tokyo-side, I went to the usual place - a drugstore - to buy a toothbrush.  I was bailed up for several minutes trying to reconcile the bewildering array of contorted, technicolor offerings. Like these:

I mean, holy cavity, what is that? I feel like it came from the 8-and-under section of Toys'R'Us, like the bristles are going to give me blue or purple teeth, and how much extra am I paying for some fancy die-cutting machine to sculpt all those graphical swooshes and dots? Have you not heard of "blue and green should not be seen, without a color in between?"

Now don't get me wrong - I am as much a lover of color and and bling and out'n'out maximalism when done right. But the Sagrada Familia these ain't.

In my FastCompany blog I wrote about Feldenkreis and the perils of escalation - otherwise known as "overkill". The product of overkill is ugliness. An overloaded piece of "pizza sushi", as my Japanese friend calls it - groaning under the weight of avocado, fish roe, mayonnaise, mango, tempura - is flavor ugliness. A boss that says "and if you do it again," after you've said "It will never happen again, boss", is personality ugliness. An overproduced studio track is ... Barry Manilow (no personal offence to Bazza, he's a good guy). OK, make that Celine Dion.

No doubt the manufacturer of the above blingy brushes will insist that focus groups like them. Well, when you force people in a fluorescent-lit, carpeted-partition room on a Tuesday night to focus on a bunch of objects on a white table, they'll eventually end up growing on you like a wart. How many of you have flicked though the unfathomable dross in an airplane duty-free catalog;then, for god's sake, ended up actually buying some bling at 30,000 feet in a frenzy of boredom?

Visual and aural escalation creates an environment of cacophany, causing dizziness, confusion, irritation and stress, ultimately leading to the consumption of happy pills, alcohol, therapy and television shopping. Include in this, road rage, stripmalls edged with awful neon lighting, Build-A-Bear - you get the idea.

Overwrought technicolor toothbrushes like this must be stopped.

Thank Buddha I can gaze through the barely-there, unobtrusive handle of my Muji toothbrush, and feel a sense of calm and clarity wash over me like ripples over pond of fat koi. Throw away your meds, buy a Muji toothbrush and notice a visible difference to your life in just three gargles.

Now about escalated dental floss - that's another 20 minutes in the aisle ... don't get me started.

toothbrush |ˈtoōθˌbrə | noun
a small brush with a long handle used for cleaning the teeth.