Naturally, most of my restaurant reviews have been for locations found in the Calgary area, with the occasional Montanan eatery thrown in for good measure during the summer.
That’s about to change!
For the next several blog entries I’m going to bring you along for a trip to New York City with Alison and me. Five days. Five reviews. Four nights. (Couldn’t afford the extra night.)
Let's start with the knish.
I will freely admit I had heard of knish, but knew nothing more than the following: it's edible and...well, that's about it. Calgary just doesn't have a large enough Jewish community to support a dedicated knish food cart, let alone achieving the market penetration of, say, the Tim Hortons chain of Canadian coffee and baked goods. And the Ukrainians who immigrated to Alberta generations ago have been really (some might say obsessively) focused on dominating the perogy niche. So, having access to knish on just about every street corner in Manhattan was a clear sign we needed to give it a try. We decided on a late lunch/snack after building appetites navigating 6 floors of the Museum of Modern Art. (When even a Mondrian starts to look like a cheeseburger, it’s time to eat.)
Now I know that buying food off the street can be a risky proposition, but the vendor we chose had bright, cheerful umbrellas; and just because his name was Nikas didn't mean we weren't going to get authentic traditional Hebrew cuisine. He could have been Jewish. Why not? You would never guess I was part Welsh, wouldja? I don’t have long blond hair, pointed ears, or magical powers. (Wait, maybe I’m thinking of Elves. Hmm...no, I was right the first time; that’s definitely the Welsh.) Sure, my middle name, Lloyd (the double "L" signals the mandatory addition of phlegm to the pronunciation and gives the name more “impact”) is a dead giveaway, but it's not like I share that information with just anyone.
Well, I don't know how typical our knishes (pluralized like "fishes", right?) were as far as preparation and presentation, but we each received a slightly grainy, doughy dumpling filled with mustard. The knish itself was pretty bland and its mild flavor was completely overwhelmed by the mustardy center. As a whole, it reminded me of an undercooked jelly donut filled with whatever could be found in the fridge when the raspberry jam ran out. Oh look, another reference to Tim Hortons!
If we had left the experience there, with indifference, that would have been fine. But within 15 minutes of eating our street dumplings, we were both feeling pretty queasy. (No, I'm not holding all knish-mongers responsible for our rumbly tumblies. Like I said before, we knew there were risks eating something found, as it were, "on the street". If everyone subscribed to such a negative attitude, people in the southern United States would have quit barbecuing armadillo after just their first roadkill.) So, we weren't exactly racing each other to the next street vendor, but we also weren’t about to let some mild stomach upset keep us from trying another one if the opportunity arose to sample a higher grade of knish.
At least that was my philosophy until later that evening. Both of our unsettled bellies - and appetites - had returned to normal by dinner time, so we kept our reservation at a restaurant recommended by friends. I don't want this restaurant painted with the same brush as Nikas’ unfortunate delicacy ("best paired with a red, may I recommend a late 2011 Pepto Bismal?"), so I'll save this restaurant's name for another blog entry. Alison and I both had wonderful evening meals, but my nausea from earlier in the day returned with a vengeance, and in homage to the action painters of the early 20th century we had seen at the MOMA that very morning, I proceeded to create my very own Jackson Pollack in the hotel bathroom after we returned to our room.
You probably think I got what I deserved. A pretty umbrella has never been a guaranteed seal of approval from the local health inspector, so what the hell were we thinking?
Our expectations were actually set pretty high because of the street meat we had enjoyed just the day before in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Sigmund is a well-known purveyor of pretzels in the New York City area. They are also known to sell the occasional tubesteak. But when they combine their specialties into a single product, you get the best hot dog I have ever eaten.
Imagine an all beef wiener (stop snickering right now; I'm not going there) couched in, not a half-soggy half-stale hot dog bun, but a fresh bun-shaped pretzel. Then smother it in fresh ground mustard and spiced sauerkraut. Before I had tried this...this miracle, I barely tolerated regular hot dogs. Now Simund has rendered the standard variety nearly inedible for me.
I mean think about it: Pretzel. Hot dog. Together! It's as inspired a combination as root beer & ice cream, Captain & Tenille, or volleyball & nude beaches.
It does make me wonder what other alternatives to unappealing hot dog buns we might be able to wrap around a pork sausage....pizza crust? French toast? Garlic bread? Or...(wait for it)....knish!
Hmm, something tells me that might not be exactly kosher with a lot of customers.