I bet you didn’t discuss malaria treatments at your holiday party

My company threw a holiday party a few weeks ago and since there was an open bar of sorts, I decided to order a gin and tonic.  Wayne asked me what tonic water was, and I was ashamed? embarrassed? to not be able to provide the answer.  What’s tonic water?  What’s seltzer water?

I scrounged my brain for an appropriate factoid.  “Uh, once I saw an episode of House which said something about how quinine was in tonic water?”  Not the stroke of brilliance I was looking for. 

“Quinine?  Does that have to do with malaria?”

I don’t know!  It’s sad.

I’ll make amends now!

Tonic water basically consists of four ingredients: carbonated water, a sweetener, citric acid, and quinine.  The alkaloid quinine is the substance that causes bitterness.  [Hmm, that's a good one.  Instead of telling someone that he/she is so bitter, you can say, "You're so quinine."]  Quinine was added to the water as a therapeutic/preventative measure, and those clever Brits came up with the delightful gin and tonic to make the medicine go down, Mary Poppins-style.quinine

Quinine is isolated from the bark of the cinchona tree, native to the Andes mountains.  Trees in the genus Cinchona were taken to other parts of the world, notably India and Indonesia, and flourished.  There are colorful stories about the historical use of cinchona bark extract involving countesses and Jesuits.  Quinine works by blocking the actions of the enzyme heme polymerase which results in a build-up of toxic heme within the parasite Plasmodium falciparum, nicely killing those buggers.

It would not be advised to swill gin and tonics to self-medicate for malaria, as you would be consuming roughly 100 drinks a day.  The amount of quinine in commercially available tonic water is minimal: 20 mg per 6 fluid ounces, and the prescribed dosage of quinine is 600 mg per day. 

Seltzer water is just carbonated water.  What a letdown; I thought it would be more exciting than that.

And then people at the party all ordered gin and tonics and I felt like a trendsetter.

References

Restaurant experiment: Tastee Corner

Tastee Corner

3020 30th Avenue between 30th and 31st Streets

Astoria, NY 11102

718-274-7704

I must be very thickheaded when it comes to eating in Queens. I’ll get to that in a second. Anyway, it was a dreary day and of the hour called brunch. I tried this place out with Max who had been championing it for a while. The name is not a misnomer; it is actually on a corner. They should spell it Tastee Cornerr. The Corner that is Tastee was filled with folks, but we lucked out and scored a booth which featured a picturesque view of the subway entrance and the ginormous package store across the street. There was a half-chewed bite of I guess what used to be a sandwich on the windowsill, grossness.

The service was efficient and well-meaning but often would show up to our table with things meant for other tables, suddenly remember that we didn’t want that stuff, and then dash off. The menu was standard NYC diner menu, meaning large and in charge. I usually order a burger but was strangely in a breakfast food mood and settled on two bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches. Here’s where my brain messes up. I saw that each sandwich was under $4, and in my Manhattan head, I conclude that those sandwiches must rival the size of a raisin and opt to order two to satiate my digestive system. Fail! That was too much food for me. I again had to leave Astoria with a to-go baggie tucked into my belongings. This will not happen again! No matter, I had lunch for the next day.

Was Tastee tasty/tastee?  Sure, why not?  The sandwich temperature could be a little hotter, but no big deal.  As I’ve mentioned before, if cheese and bacon are involved, I’m basically a happy camper.

Tastee Corner doesn’t offer freshly squeezed OJ. A minus.

To answer your question, no, I did not get to evaluate the bathrooms at this food purveyor though I suspect by the simplistic decor, they wouldn’t be too Meatpacking District.

tastee corner

Restaurant experiment: Arcane

Arcane

111 Avenue C between East 7th and 8th Streets

New York, NY 10009

212-777-0477

Arcane will be completely photojournaled for your enhancement. And the pictures actually don’t strain your eyeballs, so relax.

Lily, Wayne, Greg, and I decided to go out for a birthday dinner in honor of your trusty blogger here. The restaurant selection was up to me so after a bit of research, I came up with Arcane. Arcane is sort of a baby; I believe it opened around October of this year or so. And it’s also out in the boonies on Avenue C. Nevertheless, we weren’t daunted; we tossed on our winterwear to tough out the nutso temperatures and began the journey over to extreme east Alphabet City.

Even though I called ahead, we quickly realized that it wasn’t particularly necessary for that night. Despite the fact that it was Saturday, prime dining night, the place was dead. I’ll blame the weather. The decor is appealing, with antler coat racks on the wall, once side completely brick, incandescent bulbs suspended from the ceiling, a voodoo doll mobile by the entry. Okay, I don’t know how appealing the latter is, but it’s worth mentioning. A rival birthday party showed up too. It’s funny that two out of two parties at Arcane were birthdays. There were a couple of folks chilling at the bar, so Arcane wasn’t too deserted.

I ordered a t-punch to drink. Since I can’t find a menu online, I’ll have to depend on my memory. It was some sort of rum based drink with brown sugar and lime wedges. Can we say strong? Greg ordered a salmon tartare [see first picture] as an appetizer to share. It came as a squat cylinder with a layer of pureed avocado on top and crunchy lotus root chips on the side. It went perfectly with the complimentary baguette slices. A dipping sauce was served with the bread and it was too spicy for me. I love me some tartare, thumbs up to that. The stalks are lemongrass and not celery, as I found out when I bit into one.

We all ordered different main courses: Wayne ordered the pork stew, Lily the conch stew, me some seafood stew [see second picture], and Greg tuna. I’ll have to apologize in advance, the menu items were all written in French, and I can’t remember the names properly. Our stews came with white rice. Mine had lots of fish, one shrimp, and several mussels. It was a little salty but fine overall. Lovely presentation, for that and for all the items we ordered.

My friends told the waiter with his heavy accent that it was my birthday and requested a candle incorporated into the desserts; despite being full, we went ahead and ordered two sweets: the waiter-recommended chocolate cake and the mousse de citron vert (lime mousse). [See third picture.] The candle was poked into the chocolate cake which came with a scoop of ice cream. Our waiter and another Arcane employee started singing “Happy Birthday.” Unfortunately the other table beat us to dessert and had “Happy Birthday” sung to them already, but oh well. Wayne, Greg, and Lily tore into the chocolate cake and insisted I try it. Wow, the waiter wasn’t lying. It was very liquidly, almost like slightly solidified fudge. Ooey and gooey. Heaven. The extreme tartness of the lime mousse scared my pals away so I had to demolish the dessert on my own. The chefs should tone down the sour power and then it’d be perfect.

And then it was time to brave the low mercury outside and party because we were now properly fed.

Arcaneknown or knowable only to the initiate. But I know. And know you know!

Restaurant experiment: Coffee Shop

Coffee Shop

29 Union Square West at 16th Street

New York, NY 10003

212-243-7969

You know, there aren’t many dining options late on a Sunday night in the Union Square area. Heartland Brewery crushed us, with its kitchen already closed or about to close. After some cajoling, the hostess there pointed us in the direction of Coffee Shop down the street. Silly me, thinking it was a diner. Nope nope. It’s maybe 70% bar, 30% diner, 100% trendy with the seen-and-be-seen crowd holing up between the waves of the curvy bar. Max and I sat in the dining portion which was pretty dead, again probably due to it being Sunday night. The staff dictators wouldn’t let us sit in a spacious U booth even though those sat empty the whole time we were there. We had to squish into a tiny two person booth.

Our waitress was not winning any prizes for brilliance. She was not on top of things. Totally Inept with a capital I. Opening the menu, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Coffee Shop offers Brazilian food and drink, coolness. I ordered a batida to drink; passion fruit was out so I settled for coco[nut]. The batida consists of cachaça (distilled fermented sugarcane juice), a juice of your choice, and sugar. It was blended with ice and reminded me of a piña colada. Mmm!

The other mmm! came courtesy of the pao de quejo, Brazilian cheese bread, which came out as golf ball sized spheres of dough, piping hot with gooey cheese-ness, all with a slightly undercooked feel. We approved. I fared okay while Max suffered from the waitress’s lack of waitressing skills. Fries instead of salad, not bringing out his plantain chips. I’m convinced I could do better which is saying a lot since I’ve never waited tables before in my life.

Coffee Shop is not the place you want to go to if you want Brazilian food. If you need to satisfy your stomach late on Sunday night and for some reason you are in Union Square, Coffee Shop might be okay. Remember, batidas ease the pain of the “service.”  Would someone please take me to Churrascaria Plataforma? Please?

Restaurant experiment: Madangsui

Madangsui

35 West 35th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues

New York, NY

212-564-9333

madangsui.com

It was freezing, and we had to wait outside. All K-town restaurants seem to be way crowded on weekend nights; the small waiting area already had throngs of folks waiting for tables. This better be killer food! I guess it didn’t help that we were a large party of ten. Annie, the Constitution State hostess, had picked out this place and assembled a motley crew of dinner eaters. Korean food, new friends, can’t go wrong there!

Eventually we were seated. I stayed out of the ordering process so I probably won’t be able to name what we/I ate. I’ll look at the menu and try to make do. I am kinda hopeless when it comes to remembering Korean food names. Once the massive order was placed, the side dishes/appetizers began to make an appearance. One of my favorites, the baked? egg dish, showed up, yes! Love that stuff. Then the raw meat came to the party and got things cooking. The best in show meats for me were the hyeomit-gui (thin sliced all natural beef tongue) and the wine sam-gyeop-sal (1/4 inch sliced fresh pork belly marinated and aged in merlot). The chicken was just okay; it’s all about beef for yours truly. Annie ordered some bibimbap for all of us. Madangsui’s uses red [purple] rice for a slightly different take; I mistakenly told Jenny it was red bean rice.  Whoops, sorry Jenny.

Nick and I observed this woman sitting by herself at the four top adjacent to our end of the table. We overheard the lady tell a waitperson that she was waiting for her date. She waited so long that the staff moved her over to a smaller table, and our group was well into our dinner by the time her date finally showed up. The patience of a saint; Nick and I would have been outta there.

We inquired about dessert and were flabbergasted to learn that there was no dessert menu. Huh? The waitress told us that oranges were dessert. The complimentary citrus slices accompanied the bill which wasn’t too heart-attack-worthy for a party of our size. My wallet was pleased.  Huzzah.

Restaurant experiment: Freemans

Freemans

Freeman Alley, on Rivington between Bowery and Chrystie

New York, NY 10002

212-420-0012

freemansrestaurant.com

Since Stacy’s long-lost friend Mark was in town, a dinner out was on the agenda.  But what to eat?  Their logic was to try a usually crowded establishment since it was a weeknight, and we were dining on the early side, well by New York standards.  It came down to Freemans versus The Spotted Pig and Freemans won, simply because I’ve pigged out at the Pig before but not Freemans.

I showed up first so I put my name down even though they do not seat incomplete parties.  Freemans was filling up fast with hipsters; you would have thought you were in Williamsburg and not the Lower East Side.  The restaurant reminds you of a hunting cabin in the boondocks, with too-many-to-count deer heads on the walls.  Oddly enough, no venison on the menu.  Our waitress looked like a younger version of Catherine Keener.  The noise wasn’t terrible though we did luck out somewhat and were seated in a quieter room plopped between the bigger main dining room and the bar.

Stacy, Mark, and I decided to order appetizers.  Smart call since it took many many minutes for the mains to show up.  We settled on “devils on horseback” and the cheese toasts, each $6.  The menu does not describe what these things are.  The waitress explained that the devils on horseback were prunes [ew] combined with Stilton [blue cheese, yes!], wrapped up in bacon [yes again!].  Despite the prunes, I loved these little devils.  You cannot go wrong with cheese and bacon.  The cheese toasts were also lovely though if you have delicate teeth, you might want to steer clear since the baguette was diamond hard.  I detected a hint of possibly horseradish; Mark suggested mustard was involved.  Mmm, cheese.

Stacy ordered the rabbit while Mark and I settled on the lamb stew ($19) which featured root vegetables and potato herb dumplings.  The lamb pieces were very tender, and there was a whole lotta flavor going on though some mysterious herb tossed in there, I could do without.  Freemans, you need to be more descriptive with your menu.  The dumplings were very airy and flaky.  Man, every time I go to a restaurant and have dumplings, I never know what’ll be presented to me.  Too full for dessert, we ventured off into the night since our evening was only just getting started.

Restaurant experiment: Ovelia

Ovelia

3401 30th Ave at 34th Street

Astoria, NY 11102

718-721-7217

ovelia-ny.com

I’m an iota jealous of Max since he’s a regular here. I’ve always sorta kinda wanted to be a regular at some food provider but I think I’m doing it wrong. The sandwich shop I go to nearly ever week seems to not know me at all. Sad. Sob. Our waitress greeted my dining companion warmly during this weekend brunch, and she knew what drink he wanted. See, that’s the bomb.

Astoria eateries are so quaint. They all seem to have glamorous bathrooms and turn into loungey dance club-esque joints at night. Here at Ovelia, we were seated adjacent to the DJ booth, and since Ovelia’s on a corner, the space was flooded with light and offered views of the fleeting flurries.

I ordered a tiropita toast: a sandwich of sorts which was crispity crunchity granny smith apples, cream cheese, and bacon enclosed between two slices of grainy feta bread, and I got a Greek salad as a side. The salad had generous bricks of feta in it, score! It’s a cinch to make me happy: use cheese. My stomach rebelled, and I had to take half the tiropita toast home with me. The food portions in Queens are impressive; I’ve been living in Manhattan too long.

Bummer: the faucet in my bathroom was out of order.  But it was still a snazzy bathroom regardless.

Restaurant experiment: Saigon Grill

Saigon Grill

620 Amsterdam Avenue between 90th & 91st Streets

New York, NY 10024

212-875-9072

Right as I stepped into this sprawling restaurant, I immediately took in the fact that this place is packed. Hustle plus bustle. Mostly families, but college kids, old folks, you name it. The host pointed to an empty chair where I could wait for the rest of the birthday party party to arrive. Once everyone showed up, we were escorted to a holding pen for groups in the back much like Gradisca. We were not the only birthday party in attendance.

Saigon Grill behind the scenes is a bit sketch; some of us were touching on the fact that SG got into hot water for faking their books and not paying their deliverymen fair wages.

I ordered grilled beef bun which is described on the restaurant’s MenuPages menu as “room temperature rice vermicelli with cucumber, lettuce, bean sprouts, crusted peanut and fresh herbs in nuoc cham sauce topped with grilled beef.” For something around $11, it’s totally bang for your buck times seven, what a good deal. Granted, I filled up a bit on appetizer rolls beforehand, but there were noodles aplenty in the bowl, so much so that I couldn’t finish and I was secretly ashamed. I don’t know if the bun normally comes with cilantro; I played it safe by requesting that mine be vile weed-free, and it was, either through my request or because it doesn’t come with cilantro. It is Vietnamese cuisine; you/I can’t be too careful.

Saigon Grill, the least you could do was comp Max’s birthday green tea ice cream. And you didn’t. Our party was nearly twenty people! Tsk tsk.

Restaurant experiment: Gradisca

gradisca

Gradisca

126 W 13th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues

New York, NY 10011

212-691-4886

gradiscanyc.com

I’m hopeless with my camera. I’ve spared you bleached, eyeball pain-inducing photos of my entree in favor of an artsy blurry red image.

Gradisca, the scene of the crime, er, Frank’s birthday. When you enter the restaurant, the first thing you see is the basket of free matchbooks. And the elderly woman rolling up a type of pasta at a little table. The place is set up so that there’s one front dining room filled with smaller tables, the middle section consisting of the kitchen and bar, and the back which is party central with several groups including ours.

The lighting is dim to the extreme. You have to use your cell phone or the tealights on the tables to read the menu. If you know you are coming here, pack a flashlight along with wads of cash (more on that later). Gradisca also went all out with the holiday decorations: with metallic balls suspended from the ceiling and what we all initially thought were silver cones (Christmas trees) taking up space on the tables.

Our waitress was vivacious and game to deal with our group. Our table ordered a couple of appetizers to share, with the Bocconcini di Bufala con Prosciutto di Parma e Tartufo Nero ($16, “mozzarella di bufala dop wrapped in aged prosciutto di parma with black truffle pesto”) being hands down our favorite. I ordered the main of Malfatti di Ricotta di Bufala e Spinaci con Fonduta di Gorgonzola ($22, described as “homemade spinach and buffalo ricotta dumplings with gorgonzola cheese fondue).” While the dish was fine and particularly blue cheesy, I couldn’t help but feel that they could have added a little salad or some bread on the side or something as the portion size was a bit stingy. Boo. Like the appetizers, we ordered a couple of desserts to share; I’m not huge on Italian desserts so I won’t attempt to go into them.

Gradisca: cool logo (a woman of generous girth), uncool prices. $14 cocktails? Um, no thanks. Though all in all, the birthday boy tremendously enjoyed himself and that’s what matters.

Restaurant experiment: Havana Central

Havana Central

151 West 46th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues

New York, NY 10036

212-398-7440

havanacentral.com

Havana Central is a mini-chain of Cuban restaurants in Manhattan.  Lisa and I paid a visit to the one in Times Square recently, but the other locations are in the “West End” and in Union Square.  The restaurant was not short of patrons, all the pre-theater crowd crowd, including us.  Luckily the space is generous so we didn’t have to wait long at all.  Our table was a tiny top wedged into a corner, surrounded by a mirror on the back wall (I am not fond of checking myself out while I eat) and a picture of Ernest Hemingway.  The tables were so close together that our waiter didn’t stand next to us to take our order, but he leaned over some other nearby diners to write down our requests.  Water took a while to arrive, and with the refill, ice and agua splashed all over the table.

Lisa and I both opted for $9 sandwiches even though the expansive menu offers a plethora of Cuban standards such as ropa vieja and picadillo.  The $5 mojito happy hour deal was incredibly tempting, but I refrained.  Lisa opted for the classic Cuban sandwich and I handpicked the roast pork Cuban sandwich with garlic mayo.  The sandwiches are partnered with sweet potato fries, or wedges, but who wants those?

The SP fries were crunchy but a bit bland; I dashed the old pal salt on them.  Now for the sandwich.  The pork was fine.  The garlic mayo?  Also fine too, could use more garlic.  The bread?  Is there even that much oil in Cuba?  The slices of carbs were glistening, slippery, slightly nauseating to behold.  I.  Don’t.  Understand.  Cuban bread should not be punished this way.