The Queens Kickshaw

The lighting was dim as we entered The Queens Kickshaw located on Broadway, just off Steinway, in Astoria this morning. I didn’t see a hostess, but the barista was quick to welcome us: “What can I get started for you?” I declined a coffee and asked if we could sit down for brunch. She encouraged us to grab a table of our choosing, so we walked past the coffee bar and sat at one in the back. We arrived just after they opened and the restaurant was largely empty. Thirty minutes later, that would all change.

the queens kickshaw egg and cheese sandwich

egg and cheese sandwich

An industrial vibe emanates from the walls–adorned by lamps as light fixtures–and the steely furniture of The Queens Kickshaw. Yet, the place feels pleasant. A waitress with a sangfroid air dropped off a few menus and a compendium of drinks and placed two wide-mouth glasses of water on our table. Colin Meloy’s unmistakable tin-can voice, with his crisp elocution of lyrics on Picaresque, blared from the speakers as we pored over the brunch menu. After just five minutes of sitting there, I exclaimed to MDP, “I really like it here.”

Ambiance aside, the food is top notch, too. They offer a selection of egg dishes and french toast, but what you really want to focus on are the dishes under “The Classics” section. There you’ll find The Queens Kickshaw’s bread and butter. Two varieties of their famous grilled cheese and a decadent macaroni and cheese option, made with three types of fromage, caramelized onions, and the unique addition of green beans, make the cut for brunch.

MDP selected the egg and cheese sandwich and I ordered the gouda grilled cheese. Topped with a cheese crisp, the egg and cheese sandwich features ricotta, rather than your run-of-the-mill American or cheddar cheese, as the eponymous “cheese” stuffed between two luxurious slices of brioche. It comes with thyme and maple hot sauce on it. I found it to be quite delectable.

the queens kickshaw gouda grilled cheese

gouda grilled cheese

The obvious star of the show was the gouda grilled cheese, though. Featuring black bean hummus, guava jam, and pickled jalapenos, this singular rendition of the tried-and-true grilled cheese sandwich was like nothing I’d ever tried. The combination of the creamy hummus, sweet and tart jam and spiciness of the jalapenos–all piled on the same soft brioche used for the egg and cheese sandwich–culminated in a truly awesome savory experience. A mixed greens salad with a jalapeno dressing accompanies the dish, carrying the hot flavor of the sandwich forward.

I had noticed that chocolate pudding was on the menu, so I ordered that once we were finished with our entrees. Made with Mast Brothers Madagascar chocolate, the pudding was extraordinary. Handmade whipped cream topped the delightful dessert, with flaky pastry (called by the fancy name “feuilletine”) covering the cream. It was simple, yet divine.

the queens kickshaw chocolate pudding

chocolate pudding

While we waited for our food, I watched people come and go, picking up coffees from the front, as light poured through the expansive storefront window. People leaned against the wall near the door, and the illumination, in contrast to the dark of the interior, made their silhouettes appear other-worldly. I snapped a few photos to remember the early-morning experience.

There’s something special about The Queens Kickshaw. I encourage you to try their brunch, and, really, to go any time, for any meal. Their cider list is particularly impressive, with bottles from all over the world filling the menu. The Queens Kickshaw proprietors like cider so much that they recently opened a bar dedicated to the drink on the Lower East Side, called Wassail. I bet that’s good, too!

The Queens Kickshaw
40-17 Broadway (near Steinway)
Astoria, New York
Take the M/R to Steinway and walk a few blocks.

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V Street (Philadelphia)

Tell me about the time you had some of the best food you’ve ever eaten. Consider the nuances, the flavors, and the textures. Think about its provenance: is it the type of all American fare offered by drive-in spots on lonely highways? Or is it extra-U.S. in origin, from lands far, far away? And, finally, does it have meat? I’m guessing your knee-jerk response to the last question is “yes.” But that’s because you’ve never been to V Street, the self-proclaimed vegan street food bar, in Philadelphia.

v street togarashi fries

togarashi fries

A sophisticated threesome led me to V Street, tucked away on 19th Street in the Rittenhouse neighborhood. As we walked through the restaurant’s double doors, one of My Lady Dining Partners (MLDPs) commented that it felt like we were entering someone’s apartment. The level of hospitality shown by V Street staff makes you feel like you’ve landed in a friend’s home, so I suppose the unusual entrance is well-suited for this fantastic spot.

You’re going to like what we ordered (because I certainly did): we basically got the entire menu. Using discretion, we avoided some of the less exciting small dishes, such as the market greens and spicy chaat salad. But, we opted for the other two small plates and all of the large plates listed on the menu du jour. Oh, yeah, and we got both desserts (more on them later). (V Street changes up the menu every so often, but the dishes we tried were definitely representative of the magically delicious food they serve.)

Okay, so, here we go.

The server brought out all the dishes in quick succession and placed them on our rapidly diminishing table surface.

v street chilled kung pao noodles

chilled kung pao noodles

The togarashi fries and chilled kung pao noodles–both small plates–were probably my favorites. The heavily spiced fries feature scallions and cilantro, but the real star of the show is the gochujang mayo. Whoa, gochujang mayo! For the uninitiated, gochujang is an amaaaaazing spicy paste used in Korean cuisine, which you may be familiar with if you’ve ever had bibimbap. I’m sort of speechless about these fries, but even more so about the cold noodles. The perfectly cooked noodles are slathered with a delicious peanut sauce, with bits of charred broccoli mixed throughout. Everyone at the table was like “these noodles!” and rendered basically speechless, as I am now thinking about how incredible these two dishes were.

The large plates were also very good, and my favorite among them was definitely the blackened tofu taco salad, which seemed to be less favored by my company. I think it was the uniquely charred tofu that did it for me. I also enjoyed the accompanying smoked black beans, crunchy tortilla, and creamy avocado. The most innovative dish we ordered was easily the Korean fried tempeh reuben that turns the classic sandwich on its head. It has kimchee kraut and sriracha thousand island dressing (!). If you go to V Street and order this dish, you will never ever feel okay ordering a reuben anywhere else–it could never compare.

v street blackened tofu taco salad

blackened tofu taco salad

I couldn’t tell what everyone else liked best because whenever someone asked what one of the dishes was, the common response was, “I don’t know, but it’s good!”

We had to get dessert, obviously, because we clearly hadn’t eaten enough already. So, V Street has soft serve and a churro ice cream sandwich on offer. The flavors for both change on a regular basis. We were fortunate enough to be there when they had Mexican chocolate soft serve, which has a tequila topping sprinkled over it–yum! The churro ice cream sandwich that day had a tropical blend sorbet squeezed in between two halves for a sweet yet tangy treat to finish our meal.

You should know that V Street also serves up fascinating beverages, such as interesting iced teas and lemonades (with trees in them [???]), as well as a selection of rotating cocktails that will keep you on your toes.

v street churro ice cream sandwich

churro ice cream sandwich

All said, V Street’s laser-like focus on the adventurous and original keeps their customers coming back for more. And it makes New Yorkers like me wish I lived in Philadelphia. Yeah, it’s that good.

Philadelphia is awesome, by the way, so you should visit whenever you get the chance. Here’s a list of fun things to do in the city of brotherly love over the next few months. When you do make it down there, go to V Street–you won’t be sorry you did!

V Street
126 S. 19th Street
Rittenhouse, Philadelphia
I have no idea how to get there. Grab a friend, use your GPS, and get walking. I swear it’s not far from 30th Street station, but it may be a trip worthy of a cab.

Butcher Bar

It’s the end of March and, here in New York, it’s actually snowing. Whatever happened to “in like a lion, out like a lamb”? While the weather may be distressing, the meal I ate this morning certainly was not. If you’re looking for a unique answer to “where can we go to brunch?” in Queens, Butcher Bar is it.

butcher bar burnt ends and scrambled eggs

burnt ends and scrambled eggs

This borough has been experiencing a sharp influx of hipsters. Brooklyn transplants have been making their way across the county line to settle in Astoria, Long Island City, and, now, my dear Sunnyside. Butcher Bar is precisely designed for the newcomers. It’s an organic, sustainable barbecue joint with a quaint, yet plain interior. I’ve never been to the proper South, but I imagine this is the type of place you’d find in Austin, TX. These new Queens-bound millennial types enjoy this kind of thing, and I can guess that Butcher Bar has capitalized on their sensibilities.

That’s not a bad thing, of course–especially when the quality of meat and dining experience feels unparalleled to anywhere else in the neighborhood.

This morning, MDP and I wanted something different for brunch and decided to take the subway to Astoria. Butcher Bar is just a few blocks away from the N/Q 30th Avenue stop, so we hiked through the falling snow to find the lauded restaurant (it has a four-star rating on Yelp, which is pretty good considering that people love to complain on this site).

butcher bar brisket hash

brisket hash

Butcher Bar only recently began to serve brunch. Their menu is chocked full of egg dishes, with the occasional pancake item making an appearance. But the real star of the menu is the meat. Butcher Bar only sells the finest grass-fed meat, and the sheer quality of their cut selections is readily apparent in their offerings.

MDP opted for the brisket hash, while I ordered the burnt ends with scrambled eggs. Both dishes were incredible and accompanied by a complimentary alcoholic beverage of our choice (sangria, cocktail, beer). Let’s start with the brisket hash, which features diced potatoes and peppers with–you guessed it–brisket mixed in. It’s covered with a white gravy and an egg on top. MDP seemed to enjoy it, and I had a taste and agree that it was top notch. My burnt ends were phenomenal. They were silky, smooth, and very flavorful. The burnt ends were situated atop scrambled eggs with a layer of cheese, to my delight. Expertly cooked potatoes and mixed greens also came with our selections.

In addition to the mains, we got the creamy macaroni and cheese as a side dish. I found the simplicity of the dish to be satisfactory, but MDP wasn’t as impressed by it. The pasta was drenched in a delicious cheese sauce, and paprika was sprinkled on top.

butcher bar creamy macaroni and cheese

creamy macaroni and cheese

At the end of our meal, the lovely waitress asked if we’d like a piece of apple cake on the house. I enthusiastically said yes, and she brought us a sliver of the cake. It featured a drizzle of caramel on top, and the rare apple piece inside the cake. Despite the lackluster showing of fruit, I found the crust to be thick and authentic tasting. I was pleased with this addition to our meal.

I’d say that the value of brunch at Butcher Bar is amazing. Although the burnt ends with eggs plate cost $18 or so, it came with 10 – 15 pieces of meat and the plate was filled to the brim with food. The cocktail I ordered would have been $10 a la carte, and I quite enjoyed it. Plus, let’s not forget the apple cake that was a surprising finish.

Even if you’re not a Queens dweller, I’d suggest making the trip to Butcher Bar for brunch or even dinner. If they can serve up masterfully crafted dishes for the Saturday-Sunday morning set, I’m confident in their ability to do this during the evening, as well.

Butcher Bar
37-10 30th Avenue (between 37th and 38th streets)
Astoria, NY
Take the N/Q to 30th Avenue and walk north several blocks. It’s on the east side of the street.

Dirt Candy

As you know, I’m not a vegetarian. I tried that when I was in college and failed miserably. And that was before I became a burger aficionado. I remember scooping chick peas into a bowl then covering them with Italian dressing at the dining hall. Obviously, this mode of eating would never be sustainable. If I could eat at Dirt Candy every day, I’d happily be a vegetarian forever more.

dirt candy hush puppies

hush puppies

Situated down on Allen Street on the Lower East Side, Dirt Candy serves upscale vegetarian cuisine that is categorically artful. The spacious restaurant exudes a clean aesthetic, with a minimally designed interior and many right angles. The New York Times recently wrote a laudatory review of the place, so it’s nearly impossible to get a reservation these days. But don’t be deterred! Dirt Candy has a counter that overlooks skilled chefs creating masterpieces, which ends up being a more entertaining experience than sitting among the plebs.

Now, let’s get to what I ate.

My Lady Dining Partner (MLDP) and I sampled an array of menu items to get the full experience of Dirt Candy.

dirt candy broccoli dogs

broccoli dogs

After taking our order, a waiter brought over a small dish with bread bursting from it, much like muffins explode from the pan to form the exquisite tops. The breads were multicolored, and each portion tasted different, with the red conjuring beets and the green resembling chard or spinach. They were accompanied by a garlicky butter, which was fantastic. From the get-go, I knew this was going to be an incredible dining experience.

We began our meal in earnest with the jalapeno hush puppies, which were served with maple butter. In a word – YUM! MLDP observed that the hush puppies were more like corn fritters, but that’s not a knock against them. They were fried deliciousness, and served in ample portions, so do try this so-called “snack” when you go (and I’m sure you’ll go after reading this review).

dirt candy brussels sprouts tacos

brussels sprouts tacos

For our entrees, we opted for the broccoli dogs (two per order) and brussels sprouts tacos. Wow, both were amazing. The broccoli dogs sat upon housemade buns and were topped with a broccoli kraut, laced with mustard barbecue sauce. On the side, they gave us a generous portion of kale chips that tasted like sweet and sour pickles, and a small slaw made with microgreens. The dish was amazing.

But, the real stars of the show were the tacos. Charred brussels sprouts were laid upon a piping hot stone, and what seemed to be Bibb lettuce leaves took the place of your typical taco shells. I’ve never had brussels sprouts like this in my entire life. Their roasted exteriors were perfect yet belied a tender inside that delights the palate. A delicious guacamole, tortilla strips, a spicy and textured mole, and other fixings were alongside the main parts of the dish. This is billed as a dish to share, but I’d advise you to share everything you get at Dirt Candy so you can try many options.

dirt candy carrot meringue pie

carrot meringue pie

For dessert – and we had to get dessert given how amazing the other food was – we tried the carrot meringue pie with sour cream ice cream. OMG, this was AWESOME. The carrot filling was dense and flavorful, while the meringue that topped the carrot was expertly applied and toasted. I enjoyed the carrot crust, as well. I could take or leave the sour cream ice cream, but it was a nice complement to the carrot flavoring.

We got a second dessert from Babycakes, right around the corner, but, honestly, who’s counting?

So, in short, you have to go to Dirt Candy. Take this advice from the burger queen.

Dirt Candy
86 Allen Street (between Grand and Broome streets)
Lower East Side, New York
Take the B/D to Grand Street and walk a few blocks, or the F/M/Z to Delancey Street and walk a few blocks.

Sleater-Kinney at Terminal 5

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The venue was dark when the band entered from stage right. The energy at Terminal 5 was rising, and I could feel it seeping through the floorboards of the second tier where MDP and I were standing. One spectator commented that more than 1,000 people must have been present for the second night of a sold-out two-night appearance by the band that vanished into thin air eight years ago.

Sleater-Kinney is easily one of my favorite bands. Two guitars and a drum set comprise this trio, which could be one of the more unique aspects of the band if they weren’t also so exceptional in so many other ways. I once read that they tune the lower E of their guitars to C sharp, which, as a burgeoning guitar player, simply blows my mind. Don’t the chords sound different? I wondered, trying to comprehend how it must be writing with such a different sound.

Their feminist roots in the riot grrrl movement of the ’90s runs through their tunes, but their lyrics are much more sophisticated and thinkworthy than your run-of-the-mill Bikini Kill. And, of course, this is not an insult to BK as much as it’s a compliment to SK.

Last night, on February 27, the band took the stage and played through their catalog, album by album, speeding up certain songs and adding flourishes here and there in time-honored Sleater-Kinney standards, such as “Words + Guitar” and “One Beat,” a song that contains some of my favorite lyrics EVER:

Should I come outside and run your cars?
Should I run your rockets to the stars?
Could you invent a world for me?
I need to hear a symphony
If I’m to run the future,
You’ve got to let the old world go, oh oh

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More known for her appearances on Portlandia these days than for her guitar playing, Carrie Brownstein danced across the stage, kicking her long, lanky legs up toward the ceiling as she ripped through lines that only expert guitarists could dream of playing. Corin Tucker belted out number after number with her unique voice, penetrating even the most insulating ear plugs worn by novice SK attendees. And Janet Weiss, on the drums, back up vocals and harmonica, kept the beat plugging along with adroit playing.

The crowd was filled with three types of people, as far as I could tell: the long-suffering Sleater-Kinney fans who have been behind them since their noteworthy album Call the Doctor dropped (I’m in this group); the newbies who know No Cities to Love, their new record, with a sound that demonstrates the nearly 10 years of music that’s occurred since the band last wrote together; and the people who like Portlandia.

Although she’s the most famous band member today, Carrie didn’t ham it up by making funny remarks here and there. She kept it low-key and largely allowed Corin to speak to and rev up the crowd.

Their experience as seasoned musicians shone through on just about every song. Carrie’s masterful guitar lines exploded on songs like “Youth Decay,” which was way more uptempo than the album rendition, and “Dig Me Out” with its clarion call of punk-infused indie rock. Corin’s voice reverberated to the highest tiers of the massive venue, and sounded gorgeous on classic tracks like “Good Things,” a fan favorite.

I was reminded of the brilliance of their songwriting when Carrie began singing “Entertain” off their 2006 album The Woods:

So you wanna be en-en-tertained?
Please look away, don’t look away
We’re not here ’cause we want to entertain
Go away, don’t go away

In this song, Sleater-Kinney cuts right through to the heart of the matter when it comes to fame–could it be about their struggle with becoming a renowned rock band? Or even Carrie’s place on Rolling Stone’s list of “most underrated guitarists of all time”? Could be both these things, but they’re also talking more generally about society on a whole. That’s what I mean about Sleater-Kinney’s sophisticated lyrics–they’re incisive, bold, and brilliant. And don’t even get me started on the aural aesthetic of this song: Carrie’s muted, round articulation of the lyrics paired with Corin’s fiery vocals, and a militant drumbeat banging in the background plus the intricate guitar lines–it’s all spectacular!

The show was one of the best I’ve been to in a long time, but the band only played an hour-long set, which surprised me. I guess the ladies of Sleater-Kinney know how to end on a high note, leaving their fans from all walks of life “always wanting more,” as they sing in “I Wanna Be Yr Joey Ramone.”

So, you thought I only wrote about Taylor Swift and food on this blog. And I understand why you’d get that impression, given the header and the name. But, as stated in Taylor Ham’s tagline, this blog is about all kinds of music.

Below is a taste of what happened at the show. Enjoy!

Dumplings & Things

Xi’an Famous Foods is probably my favorite Chinese restaurant ever. This seems to be the widely held sentiment among New Yorkers (and please God let Xi’an be a secret kept from tourists — for now anyway). At the Xi’an near my workplace, the line is typically out the door and down the block. Sure, it’s a hole-in-the-wall space, but the demand for high-quality Chinese foods has reached a fever pitch since Xi’an came on the scene in full force a few years ago.

There’s a Xi’an in Flushing, and I’ve even gone there with MDP for take-out to bring back to our home 30 minutes away — that’s how good Xi’an is.

dumplings & things pork and chive dumplings

pork and chive dumplings

But, now I don’t have to travel to Flushing for authentic noodles and dumplings because Dumplings & Things (see menu here) has opened up shop in Sunnyside. Yesterday was the opening day, and I’m fairly certain it will be the first and last time I ever actually eat there. The hungry crowds are coming, and I suspect they’re looking for Xi’an-level deliciousness. They’ll certainly find it at Dumplings & Things.

I wouldn’t call Dumplings & Things a chain, but there’s definitely another outpost in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn, which has garnered rave reviews. It’s no wonder. Dumplings & Things serves up delectable Chinese (and sometimes Korean) fare for affordable prices — think $3.50 for a plate of five dumplings. Yeah, that cheap.

MDP and I were dead-set on sampling a wide variety of Dumpling & Things’ offerings, so we went about scanning the menu and choosing a food from just about every category: dumplings, noodles, baos, rice platters (we’ll try next time), and appetizers.

dumplings & things melt in your mouth pork belly noodles

melt in your mouth pork belly noodles

So, let’s start with the dumplings. We opted for the pork and chive (steamed) type. The filling was nearly bursting from the tightly wrapped skins, which goes to show the value you get when you order dumplings from this amazing place. And they weren’t just plump — they were delicious, too. Unlike some pork and chive dumplings that are typically “chive” in name only, these had a distinctly chive flavor that made the entire experience of biting into each dumpling feel fresh and clean.

We had to get noodles, and Dumplings & Things has a nice selection on their menu. You can either get your dish with rice or “regular” noodles (which, I think, are either ramen or la mien), and with broth if you choose. We got the braised beef noodles and melt in your mouth pork belly ones. Wow, both were just out of this world. While Xi’an’s wide hand-pulled noodles are pretty impressive, Dumplings & Things’ noodles are also up there on my list. They, like the dumplings, were bursting with flavor. Our respective meats were beautifully flavored and heaped aplenty on the top of our noodles, which cost a mere $6.50 and came out in a giant traditional bowl.

dumplings & things braised beef bao

braised beef bao

MDP wanted to try a bao, so he ordered the braised beef one. It’s two baos per order, so I was in luck. I bit into the bao, with sliced cucumber and carrot, as well as crushed peanuts on top, and was blown away. One of the best restaurants in Sunnyside, Salt & Fat, used to serve unique pork belly baos. I think Dumplings & Things is giving them a run for their money in the bao department.

I wanted to try the garlicky cucumber salad, to compare it to Xi’an’s version, so we got that, too. It was good — not great, like Xi’an’s — but MDP figured out that, if we doused the cucumber pieces in soy sauce, the dish would taste better. It did. Somehow the soy sauce brought out the garlic flavor more intensely, and I was a happy clam.

dumplings & things garlicky cucumber salad

garlicky cucumber salad

All this food cost about $29. Twenty-nine dollars! The seating arrangement inside is fairly utilitarian, with simple stools and small tables for patrons to dine at. It’s no sit-down and order through a waitress place, either, so snag a table before you put in your order at the counter. Getting your food could take upwards of 20 minutes because I think Dumplings & Things has a few kinks to iron out in the kitchen process yet, so grab a gourmet ginger ale and sit tight.

I highly recommend Dumplings & Things. If you’ve been looking for your local Xi’an, this is it.

Dumplings & Things
45-26 46th Street (between Queens Blvd. and Greenpoint Ave.)
Sunnyside, NY
Take the 7 train to 46th Street. Walk south for one block. It will be on your right.

Ruby’s

There’s something very special about Australia. I don’t say this only because a dear friend of mine hails from the land down under. And it’s not their divine accents, either, or Foster’s in the giant can, which is, apparently, an American thing and not how it’s actually served in Australia. I simply love their slang. “Dunny” for bathroom and “chat to you” instead of “chat with you” as a mode of conveying a brief, but intimate talk with someone. But, now I’ve found something else to love about Australia: their take on the hamburger. A thoroughly American dish, the hamburger is something I take very seriously here in NYC, and have a lot of opinions on what matters when it comes to crafting the perfect one. I’ll tell you something: Ruby’s, an adorable Australian cafe in NoLita, has hit the nail right on the head when it comes to serving up a delicious burger.

Bronte burger at Ruby's

bronte burger

I selected Ruby’s out of an array of choices Yelp offered me yesterday morning. I was looking for a good burger somewhere in the vicinity of MDP’s workplace, and came across the little Aussie place on Mulberry Street. In general, people seemed to favor the “Bronte” burger in the reviews, which left me feeling wary as I do not trust devotees of any restaurant on Yelp. One reviewer complained about the poor service at Ruby’s–after 10 p.m. one night. Anyone who thinks they’re going to get good service at a restaurant past 8 p.m. any night is out of their mind, in my humble opinion.

So, I hopped the N train and shuttled down to Prince Street, where I detrained and ambled over to Mulberry. Walking down any street in NoLita/SoHo is a treat, since the cute shops and boutiques take exacting care in articulating their brand in the great wide windows facing the sidewalk. Nestled among a Kiehl’s outlet and obscure clothing stores, Ruby’s sits close to Spring Street. Its welcoming exterior draws you in, and they even have several seats in the foyer for hungry “breakie” (as they call breakfast) patrons to use while waiting for a table in the tiny space.

fried chicken burger at Ruby's

fried chicken burger

The dinner menu is spare, with no appetizers to speak of, and short lists of pastas, salads and burgers to sample. In typical fashion, I ordered the Bronte burger with avocado, and felt very grateful that the fine chefs at Ruby’s elect to thinly slice the great green fruit before placing it on the sandwich. Often, adding the avocado is an afterthought, so it usually comes out in huge chunks or in halves, bulging out from under the bun. The Bronte burger comes with “premium” ground beef (which it clearly is, at first bite), tomato, lettuce, sweet chili, cheese and mayo, all compactly situated on a ciabatta roll. The combination of flavors left me speechless. I have to say, Ruby’s Bronte creation is one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. Re-read the last sentence carefully and take into consideration the gravity of this statement.

MDP opted for the fried chicken burger, which has a misleading name. I wasn’t sure what to expect, honestly, but what came out was a hefty breast of buttermilk fried chicken on a sesame roll, with some coleslaw dripping off the sides. It was perfect, and I highly recommend this dish if you’re not into burgers.

Now, as for the fries that can optionally accompany the burgers: they are saturated in truffle oil and chopped parsley (I think?), and deliver a satisfying flavor. Although I ate all of the fries that were served to me, I felt the repetition of the truffle flavor overwhelmed my taste buds. But, for the truffle fanatic, this is the side to get.

salted caramel pots de creme at Ruby's

salted caramel pots de creme

Like the other menus, the dessert list is rather minimal, but I implore you–do get the salted caramel pots de creme. MDP observed that the split pea color of the substance seemed undesirable, but, after one bite, I was completely sold on their fine dessert. First, the buttery caramel sings as you savor its flavor. Second, the “salted” in the salted caramel description is not in name only; the dish actually has a salty taste, but not in a bad way. I loved this dessert, and suggest you order it when you (inevitably, after reading this review) go to Ruby’s.

You must try this place, and, though the space is small, don’t worry about having a large group–they have a table for six in the back corner. Aside from the fact that they sat our party of two at a table for four (which, as I’ve said before, signals an uncanny level of hospitality), another thing I like about Ruby’s is the authentically Australian waitstaff, who are attentive, cheerful and charming.

If you’re not yet an Aussie fan, you will be after trying Ruby’s.

Ruby’s

219 Mulberry Street (between Prince and Spring streets)

NoLita/SoHo, New York

Take the N to Prince and walk along Prince to Mulberry, turn right and walk toward Spring. Or, take the 6 to Spring Street, walk toward Mulberry, turn left and you’ve arrived!

P.S. Below is what my view was of Times Square last night around 6 p.m. I know what you’re thinking: where’s Grover?

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La Flor

Legend has it that La Flor, a beautiful restaurant on a less-than-beautiful corner in Woodside, was meant to only offer coffee and pastries from the start. Chef Viko Ortega, master of the art of pastry, opened La Flor with this intention in mind. Fate took the reins and soon Ortega began serving Mexican-inspired culinary creations to eager patrons, many of whom had traveled from as far away as Manhattan (can you believe it?). The rest is history. La Flor has been reviewed and highly rated by all the important critics in the land, and yours truly joins the chorus of positivity in celebrating this unique establishment.

When you approach La Flor, the first thing you’ll notice are the gorgeous mosaics decorating the restaurant’s exterior. The echo of the charging 7 train urges you inside where you’ll find a minimally lit space and minimal decor, with the mosaics forming accents near the kitchen.

la flor pastry basket housemade

pastry basket

Unlike some places, La Flor is a very comfortable, casual environment. The staff are even willing to allow your party of two to sit at a table for four. Some may argue this is inefficient, but I say it reflects the level of hospitality deep-seated in La Flor’s approach to business.

The menu itself is a thing of beauty. It’s handmade and features the list of dishes in delicate handwriting. I’ve been to La Flor many times, and I have to say, anything you order will be some of the best food you’ve tried.

Most recently (i.e. this morning), I stopped in for brunch. The helpful waitress handed us our menus and a list of specials. La Flor uses the same menu for every meal, so we turned to the very first page to find the breakfast and brunch options. My eyes were immediately drawn to the basket of housemade pastries listed at the top of the page. A true bang for your buck, this basket contains some of the most delicious pastries I’ve tried to date: chocolate chip brioche, tiny rolls, a selection of muffins, scones and more. I nibbled on just about every pastry and found them to be categorically superb. In particular, I enjoyed the lone berry scone. Reluctantly, I broke off a piece to share with MDP.

For my entree, I ordered the huevos Mexicana, while MDP opted for the roasted butternut squash frittata from the specials list.

la flor huevos mexicana

huevos mexicana

Rife with jalapenos, tomatoes, onions and red peppers, the scrambled eggs sat upon a bed of beans and warmed tortillas. The eggs were perfectly cooked, with no dense or crisp parts to speak of. My only complaint is that I wish the tortillas were not underneath the rest of the food; you know how I love to make sandwiches. However, this is a small qualm in the grand scheme of this delightful breakfast.

MDP’s perfectly round frittata contained sweet potato and manchego cheese (my favorite), in addition to the butternut squash. It was a well-crafted dish, although MDP argued that the flavor of the butternut squash was not as pronounced as he may have liked.

la flor butternut squash frittata

butternut squash frittata

The waitress offered us hot sauce. I expected her to bring over a bottle of Tabasco or another brand, but she surprised me. Instead, she put on the table two adorable dishes of sauces: one green (mild) and one red (hot). This detail demonstrates the thorough authenticity of La Flor.

I recommend you try this restaurant for brunch or dinner (the pasta dish on the menu is surprisingly good), but remember to stop at the ATM before you go. La Flor is cash only, which is probably its only drawback.

Oh, and if you’re looking for a landmark to help you remember where La Flor is found, see below.

lucky hair

La Flor

53-02 Roosevelt Avenue (on the corner)

Woodside, NY

Take the 7 to 52nd Street. Walk to the very end of the platform (toward 53rd Street) and take the stairs. La Flor will be at the bottom of the steps.

Galli

Situated down on quaint, cobble-stoned Mercer Street in SoHo, Galli is an Italian restaurant that markets itself as the haven for Italian “comfort food,” whatever that means. According to its “About Us” page, the recipes for the dishes found on Galli’s menu have been passed down from Sicilian family members of yore to the Gallos, who are the restaurant’s founders. A menu filled with “typical” Italian dishes, such as penne a la vodka and meatball parmesan, does not scream “authentic Sicilian” to me, but perhaps I’m only quibbling over semantics.

Or not.

Galli’s website will have you believe that it’s a comfortable, casual environment. While the main dining room certainly is striking, with black-and-white photos adorning the exposed-brick walls, the seating arrangement is anything but cozy. The words “strangling” and “anxiety-inducing” come to mind, rather.

galli calamari

calamari

When we arrived at Galli for our 7 p.m. reservation, we were greeted and briskly whisked away to the large dining room in the back of the space. Of the 20 to 25 tables that were nearly touching each other, about three were occupied. Still, the hostess carelessly sat us in the corner, directly beside a couple of women. I requested to change our table, as I was already legitimately concerned for how I would escape from this setup, and the waiter informed me he had to ask the hostess if we could move. Instead of putting us somewhere else, the hostess sat another two women to our right. So now I was blocked in. Forever.

MDP and I were not amused.

With all this said, I should inform you that Galli’s food is pretty good. For those of you who have been reading this blog for some time, you are aware of my usual loathing for Italian restaurants. However, Galli served up delectable fare, which is probably the biggest compliment I could give it.

galli veal milanese

veal milanese

We started our meal with the “mad” calamari. Galli offers three types of calamari, and we went with the rather standard one, which was tossed in a spicy marinara sauce. The small dish that emerged from the kitchen was a plate, rather than a bowl, and it was covered with tiny fried rings (and things) that were drenched in the sauce. It was fantastic. The marinara sauce lived up to its spicy description, making each bite resonate like a ringing bell in my mouth.

Moving on, we each ordered off the mains section of the dinner menu, avoiding the 20 or so pasta dishes listed at the top. This was a wise move. I opted for the chicken parmesan, because, as I’ve said before, how can you screw up this dish? MDP got the veal milanese, which comes with an arugula salad on top. While the milanese was good, it did not compare to Palma’s whose intricately constructed arugula salad is mind-blowing and delicious. The veal was tender, though, so Galli gets points for that. My chicken was dressed with ample mozzarella and a too-sweet-for-my-liking marinara sauce, with a side of pasta that was overcooked (this is why I’m glad I didn’t order a pasta for the main dish). I can’t say I can forgive Galli for overcooked pasta – after all, isn’t pasta the very meal that Italians have perfected over the past millennium?

galli tiramisu

tiramisu

After the staff cleared our table, I promptly signaled for the waiter to come over and bring us a dessert menu. The space was filling up, and my level of anxiety about getting out of there was directly proportional to the number of bodies in the room. I was disappointed to see that Galli does not serve ricotta cheesecake, but “cheesecake a la Americano” instead. Why bother putting cheesecake on the menu at all, if it’s not going to be Italian? We ordered the tiramisu, and I was delightfully surprised both by the size of the portion and the creaminess of the dish. The whipped cream served on the side tasted like Reddi-wip, which is not a knock against Reddi-wip, but against the restaurant’s best judgment.

All in all, I was pleased with the food. Yet, I would not return to Galli and do not recommend that you bother with it. The only reason why I selected this restaurant was because it received high reviews on Yelp–always a mistake to trust this website. As you know by now, you should always consult Taylor’s Ham when making reservations.

Galli

45 Mercer Street (between Grand and Broome)

SoHo, New York

Take the N/Q/J/Z/6 to Canal Street and walk about six minutes.

1989 by Taylor Swift

IMG_0040After my initial listen of 1989, I realized why Taylor Swift released “Shake It Off” as the first single off the album. On its own, “Shake It Off” signals a shift in her priorities and sound, and can be categorized as the “Mean” of 2014. When heard in its context, the song represents the melodic center of the album. The other songs radiate out from “Shake It Off” in various shapes and gradients of the pure pop sound imbued in the track. With this at its center, 1989 is not only a departure from her supposed country roots, but also serves as a revolution in pop music as we know it.

The album begins with a surrealist, synth pop number called “Welcome to New York.” The rhythmic sway of the song makes it ideal for walking down any avenue in Manhattan, and the inspiring, optimistic lyrics warm any jaded New Yorker’s heart (let’s not comment on her NYC ambassador appointment). “Welcome to New York” sets the tone—both lyrically and melodically—for the rest of the album. When she sings, “The lights are so bright but they never blind me,” it suggests that she is perhaps less star struck by this city than we (read: the media) like to believe.

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On 1989, Taylor experiments with form. The second track, “Blank Space,” is a brilliant piece of commentary on the media’s portrayal of her so-called boy-obsessed public image. She sings in the chorus,

Got a long list of ex-lovers

They’ll tell you I’m insane

‘Cause you know I love the players

And you love the game

Jessica Valenti has already picked up on the sheer intelligence of this song, which you can read here, and the masterpiece of a video is below. However, one of the things that struck me the most about this song is the extremely long chorus. The above passage is the first part of the chorus, with a second part that follows. On the third track, “Style,” a paean to a past lover whose name shall remain undisclosed, she includes a similarly long chorus, composed of two parts, and doesn’t even have a real bridge. As she did with “All Too Well” from Red, which did not have a chorus yet told an elegant story, Taylor has masterfully played with the structure of her songs and has transformed what we may have considered possible for a pop song.

In another genius move, Taylor includes a song called “Bad Blood,” which sounds like it’s straight off a Katy Perry album. And, interestingly enough, the song is rumored to be about the sexy songstress. Its deep beats and clever lyrics make it feel applicable to anyone who may have done you wrong in your life.

One of my personal favorites is “I Know Places,” which seems appropriate for the new Hunger Games film, as other reviewers have suggested. The fact that “I Know Places,” a superb track, lands at number 12 on this album truly demonstrates the tremendous caliber of the finished product. The final song, “Clean,” is an excellent bookend, as she sings about letting go of past hurt and finally breathing (living) again and its sound slightly contrasts to the opening song, which shows the progression of this work of art.

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On the deluxe edition, she offers three additional tracks with a handful of voice memos that reveal her songwriting process and prowess. “New Romantics” is the clear winner of the deluxe tracks, with its incisive commentary on society, and the voice memos are fascinating.

If you’re not one of the more than one million people who bought her album last week, become one of the next million this week. 1989 is Taylor’s best album to date, and I can’t wait to see her continue to evolve.