“All of life’s problems are greatly eased by hot milky drinks,” said a character in a Barbara Pym book. I thought of that quote last week on election day, a day when our tea stores were dangerously low and my need for comfort was dangerously high.
There is a phenomenon at some restaurants when you find a dish that is just so good that you must go back for that dish and no matter what other enticements the menu offers, you stick with that one dish. I'm in this happy rut at Gotan.
After 28 years together I know that the Chef and I are able to find the most exceptional food in even the most discouraging or lackluster surroundings, because it matters to us. This snack journey is a testimony to that. I had accompanied the chef on a work junket to UConn in Storrs, Connecticut with a stop in Hartford on the way in and Litchfield on the way out. All three places presented dining challenges, but here are some worthy finds.
Step into Earl’s Beer and Cheeseoff of Park Avenue and you enter a restaurant kitted out like a Catskills hunting lodge. Vintage illuminated rural scenes are set into the wall, and a stuffed buck presides over you, a little unsettlingly, as you dine. Also unsettling, in a different way, is the presence of ground up potato chips in my gorgonzola and ginger fig preserve sandwich ($8.00), but Earl’s Beer and Cheese has a canny knack for making the improbable ingredient the crowning touch.
Yellow cabs…Water towers…Anthora “We Are Happy to Serve You” cups: all of these items have earned a place as icons of New York City. However, I’d like to celebrate one under-the-radar (or make it underground, literally) item that deserves its place in the pantheon of “only in New York City” things: a bag of Bazzini Nuts ($1.50/ea).
It’s as big as a child’s toy football. The outside is perfectly golden and blistered. There’s no easy way to open it that will not result in oozy messiness on your paper plate. You take your plastic fork and punch the puffy crescent of fried dough, and a big blop of ricotta and mozzarella cheese glurts out (yes, I had to make up a word to describe this). There are pink slices of ham, strewn, like rose petals, within the cheese.
The Japanese are famous for borrowing from cultures and some odd mixing and matching when it comes to food. They have a tradition of eating buckets of KFC on Christmas Eve, college students chow down on comforting rice-filled omelettes topped with ketchup at exam time, and they like their donuts filled with beef and onion curry. Should it be strange, then to see a food truck selling sushi in crepes? Of course not!