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Not Made in China

There are three things that Americans associate with Chinese food:
1. MSG, aka monosodium glutamate
2. Cheap take out/delivery
3. Fortune Cookies

Only lesser known is the fact that Fortune Cookies are NOT Chinese. They are more likely Japanese in origin. I can't find the original article that I read over a year ago about someone who tracked them back to this one bakery in Japan, but if you find it/know it/have it bookmarked, let me know in the comments and I'll add it.

Fortune cookies are not found in China. One woman, Jennifer 8. Lee (yes, middle initial "8"), has written an awesome sounding book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles about the cookie, the 2005 Powerball debacle, and how she went around China handing them out to puzzled Chinese people.

The following video is from her. I love the confusion over the discovery of the paper.


Also, as I found on her blog of the same name, she found someone in Beijing actually making them as novelty cookies. In her NY Times article "First, Crack Them Open (Like Americans Do!)", the baker, Nana Shi (probably Shi Na Na in Chinese), actually prints instructions on how to eat them and there is paper inside.


Does this remind anyone else of the ever-grammatically incorrect "How to Use Chopsticks" instructions on the paper packaging of disposable chopsticks? It does to me.

Just for fun, here's a picture of the instructions from one of my favorite sushi restaurants at home in Minneapolis.

A Meme on a foodblog?!?!

What is the world coming to? I ask you.

Anyway, the interwebs have been awash with this little meme for foodies for the last week, and I thought I might as well jump on that burning bandwagon.

Background: I read a TON of food blogs these days. My very favorite posts come from Serious Eats. Through them, I found Very Good Taste which is also great. The blogger there gave his readers a little challenge. So here goes nothing. I've also added my own little notations to make it more interesting. Also, if you want to take the challenge, post it on your own blog, or in the comments!

Below is a list of 100 things that I think every good omnivore should have tried at least once in their life. The list includes fine food, strange food, everyday food and even some pretty bad food - but a good omnivore should really try it all. Don’t worry if you haven’t, mind you; neither have I, though I’ll be sure to work on it. Don’t worry if you don’t recognise everything in the hundred, either; Wikipedia has the answers.

Here’s what I want you to do:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

The Geeky Gourmand Omnivore's Hundred
1. Venison - Gamey, but gooood
2. Nettle tea - I'd try it
3. Huevos rancheros - I like my eggs a little more virgin usually
4. Steak tartare - decent, but I don't need to eat it all the time
5. Crocodile - wanna try...probably tastes like chicken
6. Black pudding - I'd try it because plenty of people say it's good, but it'll be a mental challenge for me
7. Cheese fondue - practically a family affair with us
8. Carp - you can't live in China and not have it
9. Borscht - A beautiful color, but not always a beautiful taste
10. Baba ghanoush - YUM YUM YUM
11. Calamari - Mmmm. With some garlic aoili please
12. Pho - When you're not in the mood for pad thai...pho is a good substitute
13. PB&J sandwich - anyone who's met me (esp. my first year of college) knows how much I love peanut butter
14. Aloo gobi - sounds good. Must remember this next time I'm eating Indian
15. Hot dog from a street cart - of course, but I usually go for the polish sausage instead
16. Epoisses - that smelly cheese that is banned on the Metro! I'd try it for sure
17. Black truffle - maaaaybe....me and mushrooms = blech
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes - Wonderful Belgian beers. My favorite so far is cherry
19. Steamed pork buns - I could eat whole meals of these things at dim sum
20. Pistachio ice cream - Add a sprinkling of coarse sea salt on top for a wonderful round flavor
21. Heirloom tomatoes - eat them raw with olive oil, salt & pepper
22. Fresh wild berries - sooo many more than I usually end up paying for at a pay-what-you-pick farm
23. Foie gras - Not high on my list, but I'll definitely try it
24. Rice and beans - our neighbor in Arizona made mean rice and beans with tamales
25. Brawn, or head cheese - yeah no, again, the mental thing
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper - I'm game!
27. Dulce de leche - Oh come to me my sweetness
28. Oysters - I'd have to eat them with someone who knows about oysters. Any takers?
29. Baklava - Honey goodness...mmmmmmmmmmm
30. Bagna cauda - sounds REALLY good, as long as the anchovies aren't too strong
31. Wasabi peas - Asian snackfood POWER! Also handy for food fights
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl - Thank you Cape Cod
33. Salted lassi - I'd prefer mango lassis, but the salted ones make a nice refresher from spicy curries
34. Sauerkraut - Not likely to have it unless I HAVE to
35. Root beer float - Only one of the best summer time drinks beside lemonades and mojitos
36. Cognac with a fat cigar - not a smoker whatsoever. Again, I need someone who knows their cognacs to help me test them
37. Clotted cream tea - I think you meant to say delectable Clotted Artery tea. Mmmm.
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O - Jello shots are a blessing and a curse
39. Gumbo - Sooouul food
40. Oxtail - flavorful, but takes a lot of chewing and gnawing
41. Curried goat - unfortunately....
42. Whole insects - I'm willing to try them ever since I saw a Nova presentation about it
43. Phaal - Spicy goodness but keep that naan and those lassis coming
44. Goat’s milk - Just like goat meat and bad goat's cheeses, tastes how goat SMELLS
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more - Need another expert here
46. Fugu - Waiting for the someday trip to Japan to try this fully. Homer Simpson was almost poisoned by this!
47. Chicken tikka masala - Buttery red chicken that falls off the bone
48. Eel - I like it in the right things, like in sushi rolls, but I won't eat it plain
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut - My HS grad party had 12 DOZEN krispy kremes for the taking. Oh yeah.
50. Sea urchin - this goes under the same category as the pufferfish (fugu)
51. Prickly pear - Sweet fruit that you'd probably not think to eat unless you lived in the American Southwest
52. Umeboshi - BLECH hate it
53. Abalone - haven't had the opportunity for really good abalone until I moved to HK so I'll try it soon
54. Paneer - I like paneer that's in indian dishes, but not too much on its own
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal - duh
56. Spaetzle - another family fav, Bruegger's Chicken Spaetzle soup anyone?
57. Dirty gin martini - not a gin fan
58. Beer above 8% ABV - oh college
59. Poutine - in HK of all places...
60. Carob chips - give me REAL chocolate
61. S’mores - I was a Girl Scout, what can I say?
62. Sweetbreads - if offered them, i'd try, but I wouldn't order them on my own
63. Kaolin - I've eaten dirt inadvertently...does that count?
64. Currywurst - this just doesn't sound good to me
65. Durian - get over the smell and it's okay, but I'd rather have a bunch of other fruit before durian
66. Frogs’ legs - I wanna try them sometime!
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake - State Fairs, Cedar Point, and Lake Day at Wellesley wouldn't be the same without fried dough products
68. Haggis - I'd try it just to say I had it...although Scottish Mike and Emma say it's delish
69. Fried plantain - I ove plantains anyway anyhow
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette - Erm, no thanks
71. Gazpacho - I like soups, even when cold
72. Caviar and blini - I feel posh while eating it, but I could care less really
73. Louche absinthe - not a big anise-flavor fan, but I'll try it
74. Gjetost, or brunost - sounds like a good cheese
75. Roadkill - as long as I didn't kill it and it was served in a Road Kill like restaurant, probably
76. Baijiu - oh the horrors of baijiu, I've only had one I've ever tolerated
77. Hostess Fruit Pie -  who hasn't?
78. Snail - slimy but doused in garlic and butter, totally worth chewing
79. Lapsang souchong - really does taste like campfire
80. Bellini - anyone who's been to brunch with me knows my fondness for sparkling cocktails ;)
81. Tom yum - usually too fishy tasting for me
82. Eggs Benedict - again, I like my eggs a little more virgin
83. Pocky - Japanese snack foods strike again!
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant. - don't I WISH...le sigh...anyone want to take me?
85. Kobe beef - not yet...but someday my friends
86. Hare - gamey, but good...as long as it's not a hare's head in a soup...
87. Goulash - I've never had "official" paprika-laden goulash, but I've had things like it
88. Flowers - salads with candied flowers, as well as stewed pumpkin flowers
89. Horse - the usual meat of Guilin noodles, it's not terrible, but not great
90. Criollo chocolate - I want to go find some now! Uber-fine chocolate
91. Spam - blech...I'm not a fan
92. Soft shell crab - I like it in small doses in things, like sushi rolls, but not a whole crab.
93. Rose harissa - sounds good but I don't know when I'll ever be able to try it. Maybe when Gabby and I go to Morroco (seat by the window)
94. Catfish - I don't know anything about catfish other than the fact that people fish for them bare-handed
95. Mole poblano - good mole is hard to find, but when you do...yum
96. Bagel and lox - too salty and fishy for my taste, blech
97. Lobster Thermidor - I've always wated to try it, anyone know a good place?
98. Polenta - yum yum yum yum I want to go buy some from City Super now...
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee - When I worked at Caribou Coffee in HS, I took my weekly 1/4 lb home...soooo good
100. Snake - deep fried Rattlesnake in Arizona, tastes like chicken

Score at the end?
Experienced - 66/100
Unexperienced - 31/100
Never will Experience - 3/100 as I'm counting lox and cigars as halves

A real effort

So on an unrelated-to-food note, I have not been sleeping like a human being for almost 2 weeks now. I have a schedule that is shifted ahead about 5 hours probably because of the stress and transience that my real life has thrust upon me. Now my body is paying for it. Like now. It's 2:20am in Hong Kong. So what am I doing after I feel like shit and wake up at 1-3pm? Well, today I researched more food blogs. I've decided to make GG (geeky gourmand) a real effort as the title of this post suggests.

Only time will tell if more than people who know me will ever read it and frankly, I want them to. I know my mom will always be reading (Hi Mom!) and commenting anonymously and will continue to do so even if I have told her the story over the phone, or skype, or email, or hell, carrier pigeon. As my only other successful blogging venture is just my personal journal, I don't really know how to get the word out about what may seem like one more food blog in a flooded virtual market.

If anyone has any tips and/or ideas, let me know. Also, I'll be compiling a complete list of the blogs that are always updating themselves on my RSS reader so you too can start becoming obsessed wise in the ways of food blogging. It's a great source for excellent recipes and food photography.

The fight against plastic bags

As the rest of the world becomes more eco-friendly and tries to find new ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle (remember that being pounded into our heads in 3rd grade???), China is on the short bus. Sure, there are plenty of innovative products and buildings and whatnot here, but let's face it, they're either expense, hard to use, or just hard to get. China is notoriously bad at over-packaging (worse than the US in my opinion) and styrofoam and plastic bags are still running rampant despite governmental efforts to lessen their use.

The plastic bag issue is the most visible. More and more places will ask you now if you need a bag rather than just automatically bagging something and some places are even charging tiny amounts for each bag used. The really thin and practically useless plastic carrier bags are also being phased out in favor of thicker re-useable carrier bags. I think all of these efforts are contributing to a positive direction. The new thing that interests me is the new kind of cloth bag that is showing up all over HK. I'm not sure the best way to describe the texture, so here's a photo. Also imagine that it's a little starched stiff and extremely lightweight.
Bag Detail

Now what does this have to do with food, you ask? Aha! Well, tonight I visited Pizza Express, a UK upscale pizza chain that also exist in HK, and couldn't finish my whole pizza. So they box it up in a traditional pizza box (but smaller) and then give it to me in one of these new-fangled bags. But it's not just any bag...no, it's a pizza carrier!!! Brilliant! I've taken two pictures of this wonderous thing so you can fully appreciate it like I do. I apologize for the crappy lighting, but the apartment that I'm staying in temporarily has the worst lighting EVER.
Pizza Carrier      Pizza Carrier from above

Another cool feature of these bags? If you bring it back in for future uses, you save 2 HKD! Just like bringing your own cup of a coffeehouse, you too can save the environment while enjoying culinary pleasures!

For more info on Pizza Express check them out on the internets:
In the UK: pizzaexpress.com
In HK: pizzaexpress.com.hk

Asian Foodventures

EDIT: So so soo sorry to my readers' f-lists for the length of this post. I had previously put in 3 cuts, but something is wonky with the HTML and I can't figure it out, so I'm just taking them out entirely. Thanks for reading.

It’s been a while since I last updated this blog. I began it the summer I lived in New York because I was surrounded by culinary delights and adventures everywhere I went. Living right on Union Square, I only had to step one foot out of the building and I was already awash in the sights and smells of the every-other-day green market. However, this time around, I’ll be in a slightly different, yet still immense metropolis: Hong Kong. My tenure here is also longer than that of my NY time. I have at least 1 year of hardcore, HK lifestyle. All things glam and ugly, expensive and dirt-cheap, and the often erratic weather patterns both in and out of doors will be mine for the experiencing.

First things first though. I want to use the rest of this post to reflect on the loss of three people in my gastronomic life last year in China: Pancake Lady Mrs. Chen, Barby Lady, and Noodle Boy. These three kept me fed at almost all times day or night and I want to memorialize them here...and also so I can dream about it when I’m feeling hungry.

Let’s begin with Mrs. Chen. Mrs. Chen stands on the roadside (come rain, hail, sleet, or snow) from about 5am until her supplies run out anywhere from 10am until 1pm. All she has is a gerry-rigged cart/bike contraption that has a picnic umbrella attached. Loaded on her bike/cart is what is most easily described as a standalone crepe griddle. It is a large iron circular slab welded on top of a 5 gallon drum that contains the heating (rudimentary charcoal bricks). Next to the griddle are cracked bowls of fresh spring onions and various stewed veg and kimchi-like substances, a box of eggs and chicken-fish-sausages*, and a plastic shopping bag containing dozens of youtiao 油条, literally translates to “oil stick,” it is most similar to a churro that is just the fried dough. There is also a dirty tupperware box full of various coins and crumpled bills and a cardboard box of juice-boxes containing “milk” (think of reconstituted powdered milk that’s either fake chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry flavored). Hanging off the bike/cart or sitting on a nearby rock is a plastic gallon can with batter and a ladle. Now the scene is set and we’re ready for the action.

Smiling away, Mrs. Chen expertly ladles some batter onto the sizzling griddle and uses a wooden paddle-like tool in a circular motion to even it out into a large crepe-like pancake. Next, she one-handedly cracks an egg over it and also spreads that around the whole pancake along with a little squirt of oil from an ice tea bottle with a hole in its cap. As the egg is cooking, she grabs a handful of spring onions and sprinkles them all over as well. She then shakes an unknown spicy powder that I think may contain MSG, chili powder, and pork flavoring all over to add a bit of kick. Adding a bit more oil, she then takes her trusty palette knife and flips it all over to finish cooking. She usually achieves a complete flip; what can I say, the woman’s a pro. She uses the end of a broken wooden paintbrush handle to draw a few lines of flaky chili oil for the real flavor. Lastly she’ll grab a youtiao and place it in the middle, warm it up a bit, and then fold the whole pancake up around it. She puts the blazing hot deliciousness in a little plastic bag, you hand her 2 yuan, and it’s done. It took me longer to write this and for you to read this than she takes to make this. It’s practically a science for her. Other people customize their pancakes differently, and Mrs. Chen remembers how everyone likes it if you become a regular. Some people get one or both of the other vegetable add-ons, or a CFS*, or no youtiao, or without the chili oil.

The last thing that I buy from Mrs. Chen in the morning is doujiang 豆酱, fresh hot soy milk. I have NEVER been a soy milk fan...until I had it in China. Similarly with tofu: it just tastes better there. I’m still not gun ho about tofu, but I’ll voluntarily choose it in China whereas I wouldn’t at home. Anyway, this soy milk is great. It isn’t nutty or sawdusty like most packaged soy milks commercially available in the States. It is smooth and has just a hint of natural sweetness to it. All over China you can buy juicing machines to make your own corn juice or soy milk and that’s what a lot of people do. Mrs. Chen sells plastic cups with heat-sealed film lids like that of many bubble tea (boba tea) shops across the globe. You break the seal by violently punching your straw through it and enjoy until you can’t suck up anymore and the suction causes the frail plastic to collapse in on itself as if crushed by your fist. This is an extra 1 yuan, so all in all, my 3 yuan breakfast rocks. Sometimes I splurge and go for two doujiang because I drink them so quickly.

*chicken-fish-sausage (CFS)- a pre-wrapped sausage that is shorter and thinner than your average American hot dog, and while it has the usual processed consistency and color of a hot dog, it will contain chicken and yet be fish flavored. Don’t ask. I think they’re rancid. And yet, EVERYONE in China seems to love them.

Another denizen of my street is Barby Lady. We never found out her name like we did with Mrs. Chen (Ben wanted to know). She is a woman who is probably no more than 25 who stands with her own bike/cart contraption on our street from about 4:30pm until 1am everyday. However, her bike/cart is bigger and contains not only the picnic umbrella but a 4’x1’ charcoal grill and a 3’x3’ formica tabletop. On said table, she displays the various raw foodstuffs that she will grill to order on what always stuck me as steel surgical trays. The various kebabs included some BBQ familiar things: chicken wings, beef, lamb, corn on the cob, eggplant strips, green beans, Chinese spinach-like greens, steamed bun halves, mushrooms, and chili peppers...as well as some defintely Chinese items: a whole pigeon, a whole fish, a whole small squid, chicken hearts, duck tongues, mystery meatballs, chicken-fish-sausages, and niangao 年糕, a glutinous rice flour dough that is boiled and formed into a tubular shape, hard to explain. Of all of these things, I reguarly ate the steamed buns, eggplant, corn, greens, and niangao (which was my favorite of all). **sidenote: I like that I just used the word “tubular” in a blog post and didn’t even mean it in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles kind of way**

When ordering from Barby Lady, you’d pick out what you wanted and handed them over to her. Simple as that. Many Chinese customers would go through thourough inspection of nearly every skewer on the table before they chose to make sure they were getting the biggest portion with the most meat. I didn’t particularly care. I grabbed the first one on top of the tray and handed it over. Barby Lady was the master multi-tasker. She could have half a dozen people’s orders cooking at one time and they all would be done perfectly no matter when they were set on the grill. She had four main additives that she used along with her three main tools. She had a basic oil that must’ve contained something like soy sauce because it was that color and consistency that was applied with a paintbrush. This was first. Everything ordered would be swabbed down. Next came a shaker of something that I suspect was MSG because it was white powder. Then back to the basic sauce. Then you had to decide: spicy or sweet. Everything on the table could be done either way, but I always chose spicy. Reasons are twofold: 1. I love spicy food. 2. The “sweet” sauce was like a sweet-ish garlic tar. After trying it once, I stuck with the lajiao辣椒 spicy option. If you chose wisely and chose spicy, another paintbrush was used to douse your food in a wonderful tongue-numbing half-powder half-goop mixture of chilies and pepper and spicy goodness. If you chose poorly and chose sweet, a wooden stick not unlike Mrs. Chen’s would slather your food in nastiness. Barby Lady also had two other tools that she used depending on the food you chose: a frickin’ huge chopping knife to debone things, and a grimy pair of scissors to cut things open to see if they are cooked and oddly enough, to “debone” the squid. I guess it was more like cartilage, but the squid all had these long white supports in them. When all of your items were cooked, they were either handed to you directly off the grill or placed into a styrofoam box to take away. Different items cost different amounts, but on the whole most things were 1-2 yuan a skewer with corn being my biggest expense at 4 yuan an ear. I would often just get a snack of 1 or 2 niangao in the afternoons or later in the evenings and so the 1 or 2 yuan wasn’t breaking my bank.

Along with Barby Lady, Noodle Boy was a staple of my evenings as Mrs. Chen was to my mornings. Noodle Boy and the older man he worked for (not his relation, just some other dude...we asked) were a constant presence on the street at night from 5pm-1am. FIrst off, they had the biggest cart. This wasn’t a contraption connected to a bike, it was an all-wooden 6’x3’ handcart with a built-in wood and tarpaulin cover like an overgrown sneeze guard on a buffet. One end of the cart had a hotplate with ceramic soup bowls on it and large industrial sized stainless soup pots next to it. This is where the older gentleman made the boiled noodle soups with various meat parts and the tiniest boiled eggs I’ve ever seen. They were about the size of Cadbury mini-eggs, so they must be pigeon or quail or something like that. Anyway, I was never concerned with that half of the cart because why have a dodgy soup when you could have fried rice or noodles? Exactly!

Noodle Boy’s half of the cart had a portable gas tank and burner on a smaller waist-high table while the plastic woven baskets of white rice, noodles, bean sprouts, and Chinese spinach-like greens (I really need to find out what they are because I love them so), were on the cart itself at mid-chest height. To order, just tell NB chaofan 炒饭, fried rice, or chaomian炒面, fried noodles. He then flicks on the gas, ignites it with his lighter, and sets to work with a generous helping of oil. Once the oil’s hot, in goes an egg to be scrambled. Next, the bean sprouts and greens. Finally, your carbohydrate of choice and seasonings. These seasonings, like those of the aforementioned ladies, are a mystery. There’s a soy sauce like sauce that’s squirted in, a orangey powder like Mrs. Chen’s scooped in and then, if you wanted the extra kick, a spoonful of dried chilis. Everything cooks up from start to finish in less than 3 minutes and the noodles or rice are transfered into another styrofoam container and some deeply seasoned chicken broth is ladled on top for that last bit of flavor to soak in. An order or rice or noodles is only 4 yuan and usually paired with one or two things from Barby Lady made for a nice, cheap, and convenient meal...but it didn’t make the climbing of the 6 six flights to my apartment any cheerier.

On my next trip to Hangzhou to retrieve the rest of my belongings from Ally’s apartment, I’ll try to photograph these wondrous people and the excellent street food they serve me. Stay tuned.

Union Square Cafe

So evidently, a recent poll in my RL journal decided that I should start this food blog. So here it is. For continuity's sake, I'll repost my story of last night's trip to Union Square Cafe. Since this is a new thing, it's bound to change here and there, appearance-wise, function-wise, whatever. However, if you have suggestions, ideas, or anything, please send them to me and/or comment. I'm new to this whole functional blog thing. So without further ado, my very first post as The Geeky Gourmand (don't laugh, I love aliteration).

Tonight I ate dinner at a very nice place called the Union Square Cafe. It had been recommended to me by a girl in my film class, so I thought I'd go there tonight. It was a little more upscale than I was expecting, but boy was it good. However, the amazing food is only the sideline of this story. The real point is that I was mistaken for a food critic and was therefore granted about $15 worth of free food/drink.

I enter the restaurant, alone, and I'm immediately greeted with a "May I take your bag?" I was carrying my new Manhattan Portage Bag in Navy Blue so I was intrigued, but I declined since my book and wallet were in it. I am seated towards the back. This is fine because I was going to read my book anyway. (I usually read my book or the paper when eating alone). First off, I get the menu and look at it and choose a glass of wine and an entree (grilled smoked shell steak with mashed potatoes and frizzled leeks). I open my book to do a little reading before my meal arrives. Then a waitress brings me "a summer salad with compliments of my waitress." Ooh well. It was one of the tastiest salads I've ever eaten. Hands down. Exotic baby greens, sliced peaches and black cherries, roasted peppered pecans, some finely grated mild white cheese, and a light raspberry vinaigrette dressing. After I had cleaned that plate (because, honestly, I couldn't leave any of that delicious salad to be relegated to the trash!), the waitress comes over and says "Oh good. You got it." OKay... She then proceeds to ask me how it was. I told her just what I wrote. Tastiest salad ever. She clears the plate, uses a little crumb scraper (I think those things are hilarious), and says my entree should be out shortly. So I pull the book back from the corner of the table and read some more.

Soon, my meal comes, and holy crap was it good. Perfectly cooked steak, the creamiest, softest potatoes ever, and well, I just love leeks. I actually think that leeks are a very underrated vegetable, but I digress. Anyway, I get several waiters and one guy in a suit who must've been the manager or someone, ask me how everything is. I'm telling them that it's just perfect and wonderful and every other good word I can find. About halfway through my steak, I hear (due to my supersonic hearing and eavesdropping skills) a pair of women a few tables down asking their waiter if I'm writing a review of the restaurant. He replied, "Yes, we think she is." I nearly laugh out loud. Me? What? Ha! Well, I don't do anything to dissuade them, I guess, but a casually dressed 20-something eating alone in a nice restaurant reading a Stephen King novel writing an article? Wow. They must get some real undercover folks. I had also noticed a few of the waitstaff talking and looking my way from their little area, but didn't think too much about it at the time. I just I finish my meal chuckling to myself and again, clean the plate.

My waitress returns to clear my plate with her crumb doodad and asks if I'd like dessert. Now, it's a very VERY rare day when I, or any self-respecting Teckman for that matter, turns down a chance for dessert. I take a look at the menu and decide on the special: Rocky Road Baked Alaska. As a side note here, I've always had a soft spot for Baked Alaska ever since I first had it at my church in Scottsdale in 4th grade, and I can count on one hand the number of times I've had it since then. Like the use of leeks, it's an often overlooked dessert. Anyway, I order it because hi, rich chocolate cake, underneath homemade rocky road ice cream, underneath a slightly torched meringue? HEAVEN! And it is. Really. Dad, you'd have loved it. A few bites in, my waitress arrives with a glass of dessert wine. "This is a perfect compliment to the Baked Alaska. It's one of our most popular dessert wines." Oh dessert wines....soooo good. So sweet and ah!

When she brought me the bill, the waitress, trying to be covert because she didn't know I knew, asked me, "Was this a special dinner? Or are you celebrating something?" Not to spoil the fun, I just replied, "I was told I could get a good meal here and wanted to see for myself." And with that, I paid my bill, tipped her very well for her troubles, and left...still chuckling to myself.

I was so full when I walked out of that restaurant. Good thing I was stopped at a cliffhanger in my book, so I just collapsed in the park to do a little reading. Oh man. What a dinner.

Union Square Cafe
21 East 16th Street
New York, New York 10003
212.243.4020

Rating: TBD (I still haven't thought of a clever rating system. Help me out here!)

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