Monthly Archives: June 2016

Dizengoff NYC

Knock on wood, I’ve never had any major health problems. As I was a prissy child, I’ve never broken a bone or had a concussion. The removal of my wisdom teeth has been my only “surgery.” It doesn’t matter to me that my insurance offers no coverage for massage or acupuncture because I don’t suffer from chronic pain. Avoiding gum and wearing my splint at night is good enough for managing my TMJ. Nasal steroids have worked well for my seasonal allergies. I’ve got good antiviral drugs for when I get a cold sore.

But when I look at the mind, face, and body that present themselves today, they are different* from the ones that departed Vancouver. New York has been hard on me. If I consider the city to be my boyfriend a la Miss Bradshaw—I don’t need to date real boys because The City is always there to hold my hand and show me a good time—then I have to admit that our relationship is starting to take a toll on my body. Physical firsts that have occurred here: Seven stitches. Fainting. Register-with-the-health-department level food poisoning. Throwing up in almost 30 years.  My hips hurt not from running but because of the five flights of stairs I climb to get to my apartment. City grime fills my lungs and coats my skin. When summer rolls around, perspiration from the humid nights results in a type of dermatitis on my trunk. Stress and anxiety over any number of real and imagined things pertaining to life here has meant that I sleep less and have a harder time falling asleep, and the deprivation never goes unannounced on my face. I swear the stress has thinned my hair. Good genes and Retin-A have been my only defences against the wrinkles and grey hair that New York surely could hit me hard with.

Since moving here four years ago, I’ve also lost more than 10 pounds. I was not deliberately trying to do so, as this weight did not need to be shed. It’s hard for me to notice its absence when I look in the mirror, but I’ll admit I can see a difference when I compare my current and old passports. I move more here, but that plays such a small role. Food control and body image issues that have been present since my pre-pubescent days have been exacerbated by a city filled with impossibly thin women and a recognition of my aging metabolism. I’ve let it be lost and serve as another trace of my life here. The hollows under my eyes from fatigue look larger and darker. There is less padding in my cheeks to camouflage with blush to create a youthful glow. Clothes don’t fit right, making me less attractive to other possible suitors.

I am beholden to New York, though. For he can make me feel so good. A matinee at Film Forum, a few hours exploring galleries, a walk through Central Park. And obviously, a good meal.  He woos me with the decadent ones, but infatuation comes with those that are much simpler and modest:  A bowl of handpulled noodles, a pizza, bread and butter. That is, the best noodles, pizza, and bread. He hugs me with these foods and their base nutrients, and their constant availability makes him mine forever (or until my rent becomes too damn high). To my list of beloved boyfriend dishes, I now include a bowl of hummus at Dizengoff.

The Israeli hummusiya Dizengoff comes to New York as an offshoot of Dizengoff in Philadelphia, which is an offshoot of the restaurant Zahav. The latter might ring familiar to you as its chef-owner Michael Solomonov recently published a celebrated cookbook of the same name and reinvigorated the discourse on how to make good hummus. Because of the success  of the Philly brethren, the opening of Dizengoff NYC in Chelsea Market has come with a great deal of PR hype and excitement. To avoid the crowds and chaos of the Market, I strategically went on a Monday I had off of work, after the lunch rush. It was smooth sailing with my pick of a seat (a rarity in the Market) and no line.

After having a fantastic squash-topped bowl of hummus at Shaya in New Orleans last year, I can now appreciate the difference between  good, alright, and bad when it comes to hummus texture. Shaya’s was impeccably smooth and creamy. A pinch of pita effortlessly slid right through it, creating a trail similar to one that might be made in whipped cream. The density, however, was still rooted in the chickpeas, letting your brain and stomach know that this was food-food and not a whipped topping. Dizengoff’s hummus was similar. I had Shaya’s too long ago now to compare, so I can only say that they’ve been the best two bowls of hummus I’ve ever had. There is clear skill in the technique to get the wonderful texture, but I think the quality of tahini (tehina?) is also a factor. From what I’ve read, the sought after kind is made with Ethiopian sesame seeds. I think I’ve often had hummus that masks the banality of chickpeas and a ho-hum tahini with lemon or garlic. Dizengoff’s hummus has rich, nutty and earthy qualities that are new to me, and I can only think that’s from the tahini.

Hummus with white beans

You have your choice of having your hummus plain or topped, and I went with white beans stewed with saffron and cinnamon. The first few weeks of the shop’s opening offered a lamb and rhubarb option, which unfortunately is now gone. An order includes pita, Israeli salad, and pickles, and I supplemented with two of the three salatim (mezze-like small dishes) that are on offer each day.

The heft and spice of the white beans made the bowl go from dip to meal. Containers of za’atar and a bright red chili concoction  dotted the counter, but I didn’t find them to be necessary, especially as the chili oil added warmth but not bite. The large slabs of eggplant were cooked down with tomatoes to almost a sauce; some pieces could be handled by a fork, some better to be scooped up by pita and then swept through the hummus. I loved the dill and nigella seeds in the cabbage salad, but the tahini dressing was on the salty side. The crunch of the cucumbers in the Israeli salad was the better contrast. And the pita. So so good. Pocket-style, it is baked in the large oven at the center of the kiosk and served while still warm. Unlike the Lebanese style of pita that is easy to find in the grocery store, Dizengoff’s is thicker and chewier, particularly around the edges. The middle is thin and charred from the ballooning that occurs while baking.

Eggplant and cabbage salatim, Israeli salad and pickles


Why does Dizengoff become a salve for the stress of living here? The simple style, the treatment of the ingredients, and the manner in which the dishes are consumed feel soulful to me. The rhythm of ripping and dipping across a palette of colours and textures shuts me up and makes me feel nourished.  The gist is, the calorie cutting I did for my boyfriend yesterday is forgotten when I ask for a second pita and thank him for bringing me Dizengoff.


*I am not in denial that my so-called physical ailments can and should be attributed simply to aging. But, I was needing some dramatic flourish.


Gabrielle Hamilton’s Three Fats Sandwich

When I read the memoir Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by the chef Gabrielle Hamilton a few years ago, it spurred me to finally visit her restaurant Prune. I have been back a few times and hold it in high regard. It is one of the only places I would consider having a proper brunch at, and one of the few that I think that can pull off the too-tight, pseudo-bistro appearance and attitude that so many other downtown restaurants just cause me to roll my eyes at. When I think of that book now, it has nothing to do with food or restaurants. Something in the stories and details Gabrielle shared made me think of my own life, made me admire her, and made me wonder if I could similarly present as being resolved about who I am. With respect to her personal and professional choices, she strikes me as someone who DGAF what others think or say. But this not-caring is not combative, it just is; there is no need to prove anything with her honesty, she is just being honest. Or herself.  It is not hard to find less-than-flattering tabloid stories about her personal life, ones that question her scruples more than the indiscretions she writes about in the book. I don’t look up to a perfect person, but at one who doesn’t endlessly apologize for her imperfections.

A post on the blog Alexandra’s Kitchen about a sandwich inspired by the book really brought things close to home. Alexandra’s three fats sandwich—prosciutto, butter, and olive oil—was inspired by one made for Gabrielle by her ex-husband. As she wrote in the book:

I sat eating my sandwich, deep in my coat and sweater, thinking the oil tasted very good, buttery, and acidic at the same time, but wishing there was more meat and maybe a smear of cool waxy butter also. I love the perfection of three fats together—butter, olive oil, and the white fat from prosciutto or lardo.

“These could use one more slice of meat, maybe.”

He was silent.

“And maybe a little sweet butter.”

And he has made them that way ever since.

(Passage from here.)

Are you thinking, so what? When I read that passage again because of the blog post, I did think about how amazing those three fats would be together and subsequently made the sandwich, but I thought more on her subtle criticism and schooling. It felt like something I would do, like things I’ve already done. It felt like all the times I’ve suggested how something is good but not best, or how it could be better, often directing my comments at those who have done nothing but something nice for me, those who are closest to me. Yes, it’s just a sandwich, but it’s always just something small in our minds that cause large wounds for others.

I bring this up not because Gabrielle made me feel bad about myself or that she should feel bad about herself. These kinds of passages and the reveals about her personality raise that unapologetic attitude that I have trouble cultivating. I have hurt others, I do hurt others, I will hurt others. I admire Gabrielle because she does not appear to wallow in self-hatred. I know that she has to reconcile her sins, and she didn’t choose to do so necessarily on the pages of her book. I admire that she can separate that from a retelling of a story that’s ultimately about perfecting a sandwich. As I write that, I think, but you’re absolving her. I’m not. I just like that she can relate who she is, warts and all, without having to dissect each wart, and that you are to take her as she is. I am not able to do that in my own life. I want to be that way, but I feel too much guilt for my warts. I want to GAF less and just be, which is how I idealize Gabrielle. It’s why I have a crush on Prune. It’s why I relish the simplicity of this sandwich.


Three Fats Sandwich

It’s a perfect sandwich for the season. No cooking, all assembly, picnic-ready. Alexandra’s addition of a dark green like arugula or watercress is great if you would be into a bit more texture and the accompanying bitterness. Don’t be shy with the butter. You want to feel its waxiness between your teeth and its slick trace on your lips. Get your prosciutto shaved paper thin so that the only resistance is from the bread. Good olive oil only here, please. I just pick up a baguette, but I’m sure the airiness of ciabatta works better.