Monthly Archives: September 2016

Mimi

Have you noticed all the attention that introverts have been getting? It is not hard to find a book, website, or article these days that describes or celebrates them. We’re everywhere! As a card-carrying introvert, I was thrilled when the onslaught started. I’ve always had unease about being a loner and the inability to enjoy parties or regular socializing despite how they’re “good for you.” Scheduling time for myself and/or declining invitations are acts that have made me feel bad or guilty—selfish is a dirty word. This wider recognition of introversion gives me the vocabulary to finally be honest about my need for and love of alone time. It’s not about being shy or anti-social. I mean, it is, but not because of fear or snubbing friends. Self care.

But how many different ways and how many times does this need to be said? I’ve done a fair amount of sharing via social media (an introvert’s preferred mode of communication) that I’m the big I. Every one of my real or virtual friends, acquaintances, and perhaps now even strangers know. I should move on. I feel I’ve got caught up in a bit of navel gazing, reading all these articles and reassuring myself that it’s okay to be me. The extroverts must be getting a little tired of us.  I’m not the only one who’s noticed our over-presence. There was an OpEd this weekend in the New York Times pointing out how introverts’ insistence on self care can border on rudeness. That’s where my unease has typically crept in: Am I allowed to be selfish? Understanding and accepting my introversion means YES; I’m cleaning that word.

Accepting my introversion also increases the ease with which I can dine solo and explains why I enjoy it; it’s the whole alone, not lonely, situation (e.g., blogging instead of conversing). It also explains why I prefer to dine solo at a table rather than the bar: The chance for socialization is low. I’ve dealt with a lot of insecurity about being a solo female at a bar, and tables have offered more comfort. It doesn’t always work out that I get one. Being more comfortable in my own skin has muted the insecurity to the point where I really enjoy when I talk to others at the bar*.

This was certainly the case during my recent visits to Mimi. With no reservation for a tiny table in the tiny restaurant, my only chance at trying the muchtalkedabout menu was to arrive early and grab a seat at the bar, much like Olmsted. With early dining not being my favourite, I settled into a cocktail. This was probably the critical moment when I threw my identification card out of Mimi’s late summer open window and started gabbing to those on my left and my right.

The liquor could take its effect and release my inner extrovert because I spent a lot of time on both occasions trying to decide what to order. Though rarely indecisive, I am paralyzed by a list of attractive and interesting dishes. The menu changes daily and few things stay the course. Although there are French leanings at Mimi with rilletes, sliced baguette to start, a simple Bibb salad, and it’s described as a bistro, this is not where I’ll be going for takes on onion soup or steak frites. For example, one section of the menu is devoted to raw preparations, mostly fish, but that’s where you’ll find a tartare if you need one. A dish from that section that came recommended from the bartender and is now the dish I tell all around me to try is the madai with brown butter and lemon curd. I would eat brown butter on anything, but the surprise of having it with raw fish and further accented by not just lemon, but rich lemon, was intense. My recommendation to others was borderline pushy, but as everyone I spoke to seemed equally enthralled with their meals, my enthusiasm was not rebuffed.

It was hard not to order it again, but it was easy to try the uni with remoulade. The mustard in the dressing was perfect against the sweetness of the sea urchin and bits of crab. Mustard also draped the finger-like dumplings that came with the roast chicken. They were on the leaden side, but that didn’t seem to matter to me given the mess of juicy bird and crisp skin on the plate. Sitting too close next to them, the escarole salad wilted and warmed when I might have wanted it to stay crisp. But a bite of everything together had that Thanksgiving plate quality; the parts have their charms, but the sum brings the pleasure.

That imperfection is what has drawn me to Mimi. There is exciting creativity and interesting juxtapositions, yet there are also questionable moments. The eel stuffed with more eel and foie gras was delicious, but I didn’t quite get its plating next to a slab of eggplant. That plating seemed so much more deliberate than the chicken, which felt more, for lack of a better word, rustic on a too-small plate. I’ve read that the head chef is only twenty-five, and she presents as gutsy and confident. Sigh. At my station in life, that sounds so young.  With so much potential and freedom. And that is what the food at Mimi represents to me. It is full of ideas and confidently presents them, but they’re not always as refined as or executed as they should be. I said to someone the other day, it reminds me of colouring outside of the lines. It’s that slippage that intrigues me and has me wanting to return. The fact that I could sit at the bar for hours with not a hint of the restaurant wanting the seat despite the crowd also it endears it to me.

Of course, there is then dessert. After the first plate of baba au rhum I had, there was no question about a repeat. The slightly chilled brioche is soaked in condensed milk, vanilla, and rum. It’s then topped with softly whipped cream and more rum is splashed tableside. The bottle is left for you to continue splashing if so desired. I was reminded of one of my favourite desserts, tres leches cake. The brioche was soaked long enough to become like pudding but short enough so as not to fall apart. The soaking liquid didn’t burn your throat from too much rum, and it didn’t hurt your teeth from unbalanced sweetness from the milk. The cream was thick, but it didn’t finish heavy. And like all desserts with whipped cream should, it was served with a spoon. I don’t need the buzz of a cocktail to talk your ear off about the improper serving of forks with certain desserts. Introversion is fantastic for cultivating opinions.

 

First visit

Seelbach – Bulleit bourbon, Angostura bitters, Peychaud bitters, Perrier Jouet

 

Madai (red seabream), brown butter, lemon condiment

Boudin noir, pomme rosti, piment d’Espelette

Merou (grouper), brandade, Manilla clams, shishito, cuttlefish

Baba au rhum

 

Second visit

Maine sea urchin, celeriac remoulade, stone crab

Grilled eel, pear, foie gras, eggplant, crushed green peppercorn

Roast chicken, potato dumpling, mustard, escarole

Baba au rhum (with husk cherries)

*Although I feel this might be an age thing. In addition to barmates, I’m becoming the old lady who makes random comments and asks questions to the person next to her on the subway or in line at Trader Joe’s.

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Indian Accent

I’m not a fan of group meals at restaurants. By group, I mean more than four people. (More truthful, two people.) The difficulty in procuring a table, the dietary preferences and restrictions that have to be considered, conversation topics that are not inclusive—these are all challenges that are easier to overcome as a solo or deuce. The work group meal (lunch, naturally) is even more problematic. Not only is there often more people, but the ease of finding a restaurant that everyone can agree upon in addition to accommodating the group’s size, its various dietary restrictions, and its budget constraints can make the endeavour seem futile. But, collegiality.

In more than one workplace of mine, Indian buffets save the day. Or rather, the regular delivery of fresh naan bread does. The approaching line of chafing dishes never inspires much confidence: there is little variation in flavour profile; you always have to search for small pieces of protein within large pools of sauces; there is an overuse of cream and ghee; and often when you reach the saag paneer, all that’s left is saag.

But I feel the buffet mode of eating Indian, saucy family-style dishes eaten over rice and with naan, is the de facto mode of how most Westerners view the cuisine, even when someone is familiar with a dish like dosas. Even when I had the chance to eat at the amazing and arguably high-end Vij’s in Vancouver, the baskets of naan and bowls of rice were still there to ground me in family-style dining. These feelings are not confined to Indian cuisine, obviously. It is probably more rare (and absurd) to prepare meals with a single plate as the goal. But, my visit to Indian Accent was the first time outside of ordering a dosa or a thali where eating Indian could occur with nary a thought of a group.

I did, however, dine with a friend, and when I asked her about going to the restaurant, I described it as “fancy Indian.” Fancy in my Prairie-girl speak means expensive, but in this case, it was also to underscore that we would not be sharing metal bowls of aloo gobi. Indian Accent only offers three-, four-, or chef’s-choice tasting menus. No one is stopping you from sharing, but the plating and portioning is designed per diner. All the other fancy restaurant trappings are there: gorgeous space, attentive service, nice beverage offerings, and importantly in this city, ample elbow room.

Indian Accent is not serving fusion cuisine, however, and I find it unfair to describe it as “elevated.” It is morphing the mode of delivery into one that is not often associated with Indian cuisine, and additionally, at a much higher price. Addictive leavened breads will still help round out your meal, and rice can make an appearance, but traditional only occurs with familiar flavours and aromas, not always in execution. For example, the keema is made with tofu instead of the more common red meat. I couldn’t imagine it being any better with beef or lamb. The small pao (rolls) that came with it looked forgettable until I was hit with the flavour of the lime leaf upon first bite. The spicing of everything was very tame, and I don’t know if that was coincidental to the ordered dishes or to safeguard the clientele of a midtown restaurant. Sauces were poured tableside, which makes for less pretty pictures, but more dramatic plating. Given how complex and delicious they were, I would be pleased to see chafing dishes full of them; I would line up with a soup bowl. The kulchas (stuffed naan) were a definite highlight, but their size was unfortunate given their price as supplements. We were told that one kulcha would be enough for the two of us; we wished that we’d ordered three. I love kheer, even when it’s too runny or too plain, but my new standard is Indian Accent’s version. The additional texture of the crispy vermicelli noodles and the additional richness of the ice cream were welcome with open arms.

Freebies like amuses are appreciated, but they didn’t quite take away the sting of the bill or that craving for another kulcha. A dinner here is definitely Prairie-girl fancy, but it is on par for a signature restaurant in a midtown hotel steps from Central Park. I had to remind myself of that. It’s unfair to compare it to the $13.95 tab at the buffet—especially when the mignardises at Indian Accent were so much better than any free-for-all bowl of candied fennel seeds I’ve dipped into.

 

Pumpkin soup and blue cheese naan amuses

Savoury chickpea-flour cake amuse

Pathar beef kebab, garlic chips, bone marrow nihari

Soy keema, quail egg, lime leaf butter pao

Soft-shell crab koliwada, malvani dried shrimp pulao; saag paneer and butter chicken kulchas

Crispy seviyan, rice pudding, coconut jaggery ice cream

Mignardises

Sons of Thunder

I’ve been poking fun at my recent (high) cholesterol test results. My doctor isn’t laughing. And truthfully, I’m not either. More like groaning over letting my genetics catch up with me.

It was about 10 years ago that I first had my cholesterol checked. Much earlier than necessary for the average girl in her 20s, but timely for a girl whose father and his siblings all took Lipitor. At that time, the results pushed me into the Borderline bucket. With a normal BMI, a schedule of regular exercise, and a fine diet, my body was clearly producing too much of the waxy fat for shits and giggles. I made modest dietary changes, my numbers improved, and I’ve largely forgotten about my pesky genetics as subsequent results tended to come out (high, but) acceptable.

With a reprieve from testing last year, I naively assumed I’d beaten my DNA again. All I’d beaten were my last scores. I am now at a High Risk for cardiovascular disease. I seem to treat cholesterol tests the way I look at paper-and-pencil ones: The higher the score, the better.

I can’t be surprised. Today is not 10 years ago. Although there’s more exercise and fibre in my life, I’m a fan of full fat dairy (2% Fage and 4% cottage cheese are consumed daily), and you know I regularly supplement dinners with small mountains of high-class butter. My ice cream scoops are bigger, pizza is now a food group, and sandwiches full of the best cured meats are at my fingertips. My blood runs fatty yellow despite my BMI, activity level, and generally healthy at-home eating.

I have a good dose of skepticism, however, on how big a role cholesterol plays in heart disease. I took a risk calculation survey put out by the National Institutes of Health, and even with my high numbers, all my other lifestyle factors put my 10-year risk at less than one percent. I’m not going to stop eating out, but I could make some changes to the less-fun parts of my diet to reduce my numbers and appease my doctor. Full fat to non-fat, more fish, more soy, more legumes, less cream.  A drag, but doable.

What a perfect time to finally try the poke restaurant near work. Fish, avocado, vegetables—a low cholesterol dieter’s dream.

The poke trend I first tried in LA last year  at Mainland Poke Shop has FIRMLY taken hold of New York’s fast casual scene. But I’ve been wary. Poke is a natural fit for places where the fish is fresh and the sun is warm.  I.e.; its birthplace, Hawaii. I’m not quite sure how I feel about its new place in my concrete jungle. I’ve been scared of the fish quality, especially when I believe that affordable sushi here is nowhere near as good as affordable sushi in LA. Poke bowls are pricier than the ideal $10 office lunch, but they are only a few bucks more. Sons of Thunder near my office has been received more favourably than some others, and my body needed omega 3s and monounsaturated fat, so I splurged one day.

 

Regular salmon shoyu with white rice; additional avocado, edamame, and garlic krispies

It was fine, but it was no Mainland bowl. I can easily find faults (too-soft fish; hard, clumpy rice; a half teaspoon of tobiko; being nickel and dimed for add-ons), but doesn’t it look pretty? And for the most part, it tasted pretty, it tasted healthy, and it filled me up. It made me feel good about the lunch choice I had made, enough that I could set aside my criticisms to enjoy it in a spacious, quiet room with a large skylight. I might have even forgotten I was in midtown. Well, maybe not. But I’m pretty sure I forgot that I was eating the bowl for my doctor. The white rice and deep-fried garlic krispies definitely helped with that.