Friday, February 26, 2010

Did you say kimchi hot dog!?!

Two things I love = New York City + hot dogs.

One thing that terrifies me = New York City hot dogs.

Ever since watching numerous specials on the Food Network or Discovery Channel about the sketchy cooking conditions of New York's "dirty water dogs" I have been beyond skeptical, and hesitant to indulge in any form of "street meat."  While I do love a good frank, when buried on a menu alongside other offerings, I have to admit that a hot dog is rarely my selection when ordering...

Until I was introduced to New York Hot Dog & Coffee Company...

New York Hot Dog & Coffee Company is tucked on Bleecker Street in the West Village.  Though it is certainly neighbored by its fair share of competitors, I can honestly say that it rivals them in both uniqueness and value.  If you are up for trying something other than shellfish risotto or pizza, and you don't want to dish out top dollar or take up too much of your day, I couldn't recommend a better option.  I made the trek out in our recent blizzard, and would gladly repeat the venture in a heartbeat.

Their first store was developed by a Korean hot dog enthusiast in 2002 in Seoul, Korea.  Now with over 240 locations in Korea, they decided to bring their delectable franchise to its namesake, New York City, in 2008.

Each beef dog is made with brisket, and is significantly leaner than the average hot dog.  The sausages are also available in either chicken or veggie.

Though you order from the counter, the dining room itself feels much more like a cafe, making the joint conducive to great conversation, savoring a coffee with a good book, or a relaxing fill-up when walking through the eccentric shops of the Village.  They're even open late night should you require a nocturnal replenishing.

If you're seeking the ultimate New York dog, these puppies are absolutely delicious.  First steamed, and then grilled, they combine just the right amount of initial crispiness with mouthwatering juiciness inside.  But if you're bold enough for one of their creative variations, get ready for the ultimate fusion dish.

My absolute favorite was the kimchi-bulgogi hot dog: a hot dog topped with thinly sliced, marinated beef and spicy pickled cabbage.  The bulgogi is marinated for up to 24 hours in a mixture of pureed radish, fresh fruits, and honey.  Though kimchi used to be traditionally fermented by burying the vegetable combination in the backyard, NY Hot Dog has developed their own tasty recipe to achieve the same effect, sans the dirt.

The result was one of the most delicious sandwiches ever to cross my lips.  Imagine a juicy, salty, seasoned hot dog, with ridiculously tender beef harboring hints of apple, pear, and honey, and then a pleasantly spicy and crisp relish on top.  It's definitely a lot going on in one bite, but somehow it all harmonized perfectly.

If your brain exploded at the possibility of all of those flavors, you might enjoy the bulgogi burger... a juicy beef patty, topped with the exquisitely marinated sliced beef, on a semolina bun with spicy mayo.

The dak-kalbi dog was a chicken dog topped with sweet and spicy cubed chicken.  Both the frankfurter and chicken were delicious, but I might recommend trying the dak-kalbi by itself in a wrap (which they offer for only $2.29).

Though I stuck with the Korean fusion dogs (the place was, after all, developed by a Korean hot dog enthusiast), they also offer chili cheese dogs, a pizza dog, and even a caliente dog with jalapenos, pepper jack cheese, and a bacon strip.  The Korean offerings are available on a hot dog, burger, or wrap, and they offer a variety of hearty soups and home brewed coffees.  Make it a combo (sandwich+drink+fries for $7-$8), and be sure to ask for one of the special dipping sauces for the french fries (spicy mayo, cheddar, or sweet chili sauce).

Halfway between 6th and 7th avenues on Bleecker Street, New York Hot Dog & Coffee is not too far off the beaten path.  So whether on the way to a cabaret or piano bar, shopping at one of the neighborhood's colorful array of stores, or even for a unique casual date... this place is well worth giving a try.

New York Hot Dog & Coffee

Monday, February 22, 2010

Doua Moua's $10 Guide to Chinatown

Thank goodness I met Doua Moua before I had seen him as Spider in Clint Eastwood's hit movie, Gran Torino.  The man who attended our Christmas party with one of our friends was one of the nicest surprises of the holiday season.  Had I known he could so convincingly play a thug gang member who terrorizes even his own family, I think I might have crawled under the Christmas tree and hid beneath the skirt.  Instead, the man I met was at first soft spoken, kind, and extremely gracious.  Within a few moments of removing his coat, he had noticed the beads of sweat on my forehead as I was juggling hors d'oeuvres trays, the minibar, and the iPod... and before I knew it, while I was sliding three trays of pigs-in-a-blanket into the oven, he was ladling bruschetta tapenade onto a plate of browned crostini.  I decided instantly he would be invited back the following year.

Not the sort of guy you picture violently tormenting his cousin's family, or holding Clint Eastwood at gunpoint...

It's been over a year since we met, and I now know Doua has far more fascinating surprises up his sleeve than I had even begun to imagine at that holiday party.  He is certainly rising to stardom as an extremely gifted actor of both the stage and screen (people stop him on the street constantly), but his passion for the arts and the rich culture of his Hmong heritage has led him to explore his voice as a screenwriter, as well.  Beyond the soft spoken and gentle man you first encounter, Doua harbors an uncanny wit and sense of humor, fascination with the human spirit, and is simply an old fashioned, good guy.

When he offered to show me how to get stuffed in Chinatown and spend around $10, while enjoying some of the best neighborhood secrets all within walking distance of one another, I jumped at the opportunity.

Our first stop was the counter at Sun Gai Gai Restaurant (220 Canal Street, 212.964.7256) for cha siu bau, or Cantonese barbecue pork buns.  Imagine a somehow dense yet fluffy, seamless sphere of bread, packed full of slow-roasted pork tenderloin tossed in oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, and sesame seed oil.  Literally the size of a full sandwich, it was utter deliciousness in a warm, rice flour yeast roll. It was so surprisingly delectable, we had nearly devoured them before remembering I needed to snag a picture.  One pork bun = 80 cents.  This had to be a dream...

Doua's next surprise was a place to which I will return again and again and again.  Vanessa's Dumpling House (118A Eldridge Street, 212.625.8008) is home of what I believe must truly be the most incredible dumplings this side of the Pacific.  Do not be turned off by the line... it moves along briskly.  You even get to watch the cooks hand prepare the dumplings to order while you wait.  Check out our tray of steamy scrumptiousness.

At the top: fried chive and pork dumplings (4 for $1); enormous slice of warm and doughy sesame pancake (75 cents); Monthly New Tasty Steamed Dumpling (8 for $4); throw in a Snapple, and we spent just about $4 per person.  When Doua excused himself to wash his hands, a young couple came scrambling over.  "Isn't he the guy from Gran Torino?  What is he eating???"  

Oh yeah, the monthly dumpling? Whole cubes of fresh salmon filet, with chives and cream cheese. Absolutely out-of-this-world.

Our next stop, Nha Hang (73 Mulberry Street, 212.233.8988) made Doua a little too excited, which made me a wee bit nervous.  I've learned that anytime someone is particularly eager for me to try something, it's not because they can't wait for me to add it to my list of favorites.  No, usually, the twinkle in the eye emits from a hunch that they are about to introduce my palate to something I would otherwise not ordinarily try.

Pictured above is a traditional Vietnamese soup, and one that Doua recalls most fondly from childhood.  According to the take-out menu, Pho Tai Nam Gan is simply a rare beef brisket noodle soup.  The dine-in menu, however, elaborates a little on the mystery ingredients, explaining that beneath the beef and thin rice noodles, you will also find tendon and pork navel.  I have to admit that had I not known what it was, I would have assumed the tendon to be a misshaped noodle... in both appearance and taste.  Though I failed to identify a pig belly button in my soup, it was an extremely filling, and wonderfully savory dish for only $5.50.

Taipan Bakery felt like a Chinese Wonka Factory, with cookies and desserts of every imaginable shape and color piled inside counter after counter.

My green tea egg custard, made that day on the premises, was the best $1 dessert I have ever enjoyed.

Doua chose a warm sesame bun ($1), filled with a sweet and smooth red bean paste.  While the sesame shell was crisp and flaky, the doughy and chewy middle was a delicious contrast.

After our progressive dinner of traditional Asian favorites, Doua had me hooked.  Although we had finished stuffing our faces with the most satisfying lunch I have ever enjoyed for $10, he wanted to take me grocery shopping, as he was preparing to cook a traditional Hmong meal for one of his friends.

We sampled a few of the dried fish, which honestly don't taste like much of anything until added to a dish.

Mott Street was lined with outdoor produce markets that receive fresh shipments every day.  Inside the stores were cavernous rows of hundreds of grocery items of which I had never before heard in my life.

Doua explained that pregnant Hmong women eat this "silky" black chicken.

We finished our day with asian apple pears ($1).  If blind-folded, my brain would have exploded.  These crispy, water-filled fruits have the texture and shape of an apple, with the coloring and sweetness of a pear.  They were a perfect palate cleanser for our simply incredible day.

To learn more about Doua's screenplay, or to contribute to its production, please click here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My group Valentine's date with Bradley Cooper...

Before elaborating on my exceptionally enjoyable Valentine's Day this year, I want to momentarily reflect on the last one I shared in my most recent relationship.  If you are at all like me (and it seems so many of my friends), Valentine's Day rarely quite fully lives up to all the hype.  While you can always take for granted that a heart-shaped cardboard box with Russell Stover embossed on it will contain chocolate candies, you never truly know ahead of time whether you're biting into buttery caramel or plasticky imitation orange nougat.

I've heard the argument from every angle, and of course there are exceptions.  However, as an old-fashioned midwestern boy who actually does still fervently believe in chivalry (even ask my roommates -- I always hold the door so they can enter a taxi first -- and not just because I hate crawling, I swear...), and endangered notions such as romance, whim, and creatively expressing affection and intimacy, let me just say up front that usually, Valentine's Day sucks serious toilet water.

For that infamous final Valentine's Day celebrated with my (now ex) fiance (to whom I shall refer as "D"), he insisted on taking the reigns... much to my hesitation and chagrin.  Don't get me wrong; for literally any other cause for celebration, D's generosity could exponentially shame the Magi of Bethlehem.  He was, on most occasions, an exceptional master of gift-giving.

Consider, for instance, my first semester of teaching second grade in the South Bronx.  After conducting a grueling night of parent-teacher conferences that hadn't gone so well, I came home to D waiting in the doorway in a three-piece suit.  "Put your bags down, baby..."  He straightened my tie, hailed a cab, and whisked me off to a luxurious dinner at one of New York's highest Zagat-rated Italian trattorias, where he proceeded to give me my own personal conference of everything I had done that made him love me.

For my thirtieth birthday, I arrived home from work to D in a towel with shaving foam all over his face.  "While I finish getting ready, open the card on the fireplace mantle..."  He grinned, and retreated to the bathroom to continue shaving.  The card contained a clue, which led me to the Starbucks down the block, where our favorite barista, Vivienne, pulled the next clue from her bright green apron.

D had spent the entirety of the day plotting out an elaborate, grand-scale scavenger hunt zigzagging across Manhattan, where bartenders, bodega cashiers, and even a computer technician awaited with clues and riddles to solve. The final hint came from a word scramble I'd had to print from a computer screen at the Kinko's on 72nd and Columbus, and led me to one of our favorite restaurants in the Meatpacking District, where 20 of my closest friends awaited as a surprise.

D had apparently signed a contract with the restaurant, weeks in advance, which included printing up menus for the party in the same font as the main dining room offerings, under the heading, "Bradley's Birthday Prix Fixe."  In planning the menu he'd even considered my on-again-off-again-vegan friend, Doreen (who spent the meal neurotically itching at the scarlet hives polka-dotting her neck and chest, as she had insisted on the provencal steamed mussels in lieu of the beet salad, despite her violent shellfish allergy).  All in all, it was by far my best birthday since my Madonna roller skating party in the fourth grade.

The year we couldn't spend Christmas day together because he was in Prague with his family, a lavish array of beautifully wrapped gifts waited for me under the tree at my parents' house in Indiana, all of which D had shipped days in advance of my own arrival home.

I could go on, but the point is, he inarguably knew how to make me feel like a king.

Any other day of the year.

But for some reason, the cursed 14th of February found him caught like a deer in headlights, incapable of even merely selecting a tacky Shoebox greeting card.

D had notoriously botched previous February fortnights to horrific degrees, and apparently sought an opportunity to make amends.  Against my better judgment, I gave him complete freedom, except for one stipulation: I did not want to dine somewhere that we knew someone on the staff.

As enthusiastic diners, we had built a fairly healthy repertoire of restaurants where we knew managers, cooks, hosts, servers, even members of the cleaning crew.  While I ordinarily enjoyed nurturing those friendships, I felt we were long overdue for an intimate, romantic one-on-one, free of chit chat about a manager's move from Astoria to Washington Heights, or catching up on the latest bickering between a server and the insensitive sous chef.

We lived in New York City, after all, and there were a seemingly infinite number of restaurants we had yet to try.  I even suggested we not leave home at all, avoiding what now appeared as inevitable recurring tragedy, celebrating with some delivered sushi and a rental movie; but D smiled at me, and assured me that I needed to simply cool-it and exhibit some faith.

Fast forward to us checking in for a reservation at one of D's favorite restaurants.

"Brad... now I know what you said... but Cam is managing tonight, and she simply insisted that we come in for a romantic evening."

I wanted to scream, flip a table, and whack the rose (he had moments before purchased from a homeless man) across the host stand, but I took a deep breath and acknowledged that this was, in fact, where we were.  I could throw a tantrum and spoil the entire evening, or make the best of it and see what a wonderful date might unfold with the man I loved.

This is what happened...

After arriving fifteen minutes early, yet waiting thirty minutes past our reservation time, we were finally seated at the only table that had, in fact, been available since we walked in the door forty-five minutes prior.

Our server (I shall dub her Lucy -- short for Lucifer) was a vertically-challenged, frumpy, bitter man-hater (in your mind's eye, visualize Rachel Dratch's much less attractive, goth-punk, lesbian, younger sister; then whap her over the noggin a few more times with the ugly stick, and now you've pictured her).  Lucy persisted that none of the specialty cocktails were worthwhile, I believe, simply because I had exhibited ΓΌber-excitement about the holiday concoctions advertised on the menu insert.

"Should I just stick with the passion cosmo, then?" I inquired.  "I always like it here..."

She muttered some cursing, along with an erectile dysfunction spell under her breath, and then glared at me from beneath her draping unibrow, "no, even that tastes like crap tonight... grrrr..."

Soon after finally settling on two glasses of Chianti, and placing our order from the Valentine's-Day/Extended-Restaurant-Week prix fixe menu, Cam (our manager friend who had been nowhere to be found while we were waiting for our alleged reservation) finally popped her head out of the kitchen, spotted us, and came galloping over.

"Hey guys!  Oh, I am so glad you came in!  I finally got my new bed moved... Ohmigosh... who's your server?  Lucy?  She's my favorite... isn't she great?  Let me send some extra appetizers out for you. Lucy!  Come here... add the polenta fries, the lobster risotto, the calamari... oh, and give them samples of that yummy featured cocktail, Cupid's Kiss..."  Lucy's head spun around a few times, and she zipped away to violently punch the order on the computer touchscreen with what sounded like concrete fingertips.

Before we knew it, Cam had pulled a chair up to our table, ordered a cocktail, and settled in for a romantic evening with her two gay boyfriends.  "Bradley... why didn't you get the passion cosmo... I thought it was your favorite???"

Our bitter bar wench, Lucy, slammed down two martini glasses of Cupid's Kiss. On this, I will concede that she hadn't really exaggerated.  The raspberry chocolate martini was topped with a mango foam, which looked more like the bartender had swished Citrus Listerine between his teeth, and then spit it out as a garnish.

By now, D had begun sweating profusely, and couldn't even manage eye contact with me.  We had been together for four years at that point, and this was rapidly unfolding to be his worst flubbed attempt.  Ever.  Avoiding my glare, he whispered nervously to my forehead, "honey... there is a call I have to take... for work... it's extremely important... do you mind?"

Before I could respond, he had already excused himself from the table and made a beeline for the door.  At this stage in the evening, I had traveled beyond frustration and disappointment, now reveling in the fact that I had already hands-down won our post-dinner discussion of, "see... you need to trust me to set up an evening, without telling me where we shouldn't go..."

For the following twenty-minute-slice-of-eternity, I watched in disbelief as Cam chugged three Cupid's Kisses, then ravenously nibbled from every dish in our spread like a famished refugee set loose at the Old Country Buffet.  Her shift apparently over, we discussed her new bed and new neighborhood, the discord between her staff and the grumpy sous chef, as well as the extensive menu changes coming down the road.  By the time D finally resurfaced from outside, each plate on the table had been licked dry, except his sirloin (from which Cam had even helped herself to two hearty pieces).

"Oh, hey!  That's my boyfriend outside..." Cam giggled, as a sirloin niblet shot from her mouth."Thank you guys so much for letting me join you, but we have reservations at this new restaurant neither of us have tried... I'm so excited!"  And with a click of her heels, she was on her way to what was probably the perfect Valentine's Day dinner.

We sat in silence for the remainder of the meal.  When Lucy slapped the check in front of me, I nearly spewed my last gulp of Chianti backwash across the table.  Not only had she charged us for our meals, but also the extra items Cam had ordered for the table, as well as her cocktails.

Our sadistic server genuinely smiled for the first time.  Cam had neglected to give Lucy the manager's card to void those items off as complimentary, and had failed to mention it to the other managers, as well.

I also genuinely smiled for the first time that evening, as I slid the check presenter across the table to D.

"I think I'll let you pick this one up tonight... thanks, honey..."

* * * * * * *

Needless to say, this year when I received a text message that seven of my favorite guy friends were gathering for an anti-Valentine pub crawl across Manhattan's lower east side, I was all too eager to RSVP my confirmation.  A quick glance at the roster of guys in our caravan was enough to make anybody envious... man, woman, gay, straight, or curious...

Why subscribe to an overly-hyped Hallmark holiday with one person to whom you should be expressing affection year-round, when I could spend a spontaneous evening with not one, but seven attractive, driven, talented, hilarious men who love me for what's on the inside, and aren't expecting me to put out at the end of the night?  Furthermore, if one bar or restaurant was awful, we planned to simply pogo around to wherever the wind carried us.

By this point, I should probably explain the title of this entry: "My group Valentine's date with Bradley Cooper."  While that is not entirely true, it isn't completely false, either.  One of my friends in our group played Bradley Cooper's butt-double in the recent movie, "New York, I Love You."

Honest.  And yes, I said butt-double.  How many of your friends can boast that on their resume?

Though it saddens me to spoil the magic of Hollywood, if your palms got a little sweaty during the brief love scene with Bradley Cooper, it was my friend's bare derriere upon which you were gazing, not Bradley Cooper's.  How hot of a pooper must you possess to be cast to "butt in" for one of Hollywood's sexiest A-listers?!  Though he shall remain nameless, you can try to guess from the picture below (I hadn't yet had enough to drink at this point to ask the group for a shot of their cabooses...)

The point is, I found myself surrounded by some of the most lovable, charming, and incredible friends a guy could have.  Though we have all been in relationships, and hope to again in the future, it felt good to celebrate our individuality and the dreams we are pursuing.  Besides the butt-double (who is also quickly becoming an accomplished stage and screen actor), our group contained an independent musician who regularly does gigs around the city, two other successfully working actors, two managers... basically, all men who are making a living pursuing their passions in New York City.

While I will never, ever poo-poo love or having a special someone, this Valentine's Day reminded me that even while enjoying a successful relationship, it's so important to celebrate our unique gifts and dreams as individuals.  

If you ever want to plan a night focusing on a group of friends, here are some of the locations that we enjoyed that evening...

Our group slowly began to gather at Spitzer's Corner, a gastropub on the corner of Rivington and Ludlow.  They offer a unique selection of over 40 high-quality beers, and a menu that will keep you ordering beer after small plate after beer after small plate.  The open air room was lined with long communal tables, full of laughter and lively group conversation.

A dutch oven with steamed mussels and clams, in a saffron white wine broth, full of tiny, plump spaetzle noodles.

The beer-battered calamari and shrimp fritters with cilantro-lemon aioli disappeared instantly.

No bar snack makes a boy happier than macaroni with parmegiano reggiano, white cheddar, fontina, truffles, panko, rosemary, and thyme...

Our next stop was Paladar, a no-frills Spanish restaurant just down the street.  The menu here was a little hit-or-miss, but it was a good intermediate place to grab small plates for sharing... and affordable drinks.  Let me forewarn you to communicate your spice threshold upfront.

My roommate, David, had to abruptly excuse himself for a mid-chips-and-guacamole walk around the block to cool his tongue.  I will acknowledge that David responds to an extra sprinkle of cracked black pepper the way the average person would to a tablespoon of wasabi smeared on their tongue.  In his defense, however, even the things we requested mild came out with a lot of extra zip.

The Vampiro was a hibiscus margarita with chile-salted rim.  If the food and salt had not packed such a zing, I might have actually tasted the hibiscus flower nectar.  The balance of flavors was quite disproportionate, so I'd recommend just a classic Patron margarita.

The tacos were simple and delicious.  Above were my favorite, featuring perfectly grilled swordfish skewers.

I also enjoyed the empanadas with goat cheese and mushrooms.  Again, nothing particularly extraordinary about the dish.  Sometimes, a few simple delicious flavors are all you need.

After Paladar, we walked around the corner to one of the bars that always strikes me as oddly misplaced, yet a riotous time... Mason Dixon.  I suppose that in light of the holiday, the management hadn't anticipated a crowded bar.  Unfortunately, they were extremely understaffed and drinks took nearly 20 minutes.  But we did stick around long to enjoy our friend being bucked by the mechanical bull.  We've never had a problem with service before, so I'll chalk it up to poor business speculation from the managers.  Ordinarily, it's the perfect bar to head with a group of friends.  And since we had already planned on moving around, it wasn't that big of a deal to gallivant elsewhere...

After pints of beer, tequila, and an electronic cow, we were happy to settle in for awhile at the Whiskey Ward.  We found ourselves in trouble when the specials board advertised $7 for a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon accompanied by a shot.  Let's just say the bartender seemed to like us...  He eventually handed us a box of PBR, and said, "enjoy!"

Try the AK47, a shot of vodka accompanied by an espresso-dusted lemon wedge.  The website details their other nightly drink specials, including whiskey flights featuring three 1oz pours.  This was the ideal watering hole to end the night, pulling together a few tables, enjoying baskets of peanuts, and toasting to the gathering of incredible friends.  It was a beautiful reminder that sometimes if you go out with no itinerary beyond surrounding yourself in great company, you are guaranteed to exceed your expectations...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Yank! A New Musical

Tonight marks the opening of previews for a musical I have been highly anticipating...

According to the website: 

"Set during World War II, Yank! chronicles the romantic relationship between two servicemen long before don't-ask-don't-tell was part of the national discussion.  With a lively score inspired by the pop sounds of the 1940s,  Yank! captures the spirit and exuberance of the era even as it explores questions of prejudice,  courage and survival. It tells the story of Stu—a photographer for Yank magazine—and Mitch, an Army Private, who fall in love and struggle to survive in a time and place where the odds are stacked against them."

I have several friends who are either closely associated with this production, or have fallen in love with its earlier versions, and they all say that it is a powerful, beautiful new musical with an incredible score (Joseph Zellnik, music and David Zellnik, lyrics).  The cast looks to be phonemonal, as well.  In particular, I am looking forward to seeing Bobby Steggert, as he blew me away as younger brother in the recent Broadway revival of Ragtime.

Performances are presently scheduled through March 21st.  I will be sure to post a review as soon as I have the joy of experiencing the show personally, but in the meantime, click here to purchase your tickets...

Fettuccine carbonara with asparagus and a fried egg

I have tried several versions of this classic Italian dish, but honestly, my favorite is the one I developed below.  When done right, the warm egg yolk melts into the dish, creating a creamy, hearty fettucine dish exploding with flavors.  This recipe is extremely easy, and one that you simply have to try.  I hope you enjoy!


8 large eggs
1/3 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
2/3 cup fresh grated romano cheese
1 T cracked black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
5 minced garlic cloves
2 shallots, diced
2 T extra virgin olive oil
4 oz pancetta, chopped (bacon can be substituted)
1 cup asparagus, sliced to 1/4 inch pieces

(1) In a medium bowl, combine 4 of the eggs with both cheeses, the pepper, and heavy cream.

Pancetta (salt-cured pork belly) is very similar to bacon, which may be substituted...

Shallots are like sweeter, milder onions...

(2) In a small skillet, warm the olive oil, and lightly saute the chopped pancetta, minced garlic, and diced shallots until beginning to brown.  Set aside, but reserve the drippings in the skillet.

(3) Boil pasta as directed.  Add the asparagus for the last three minutes of boiling.  If you are following this recipe using homemade noodles, then the pasta and asparagus can boil together for about three minutes, or until desired firmness is reached.

 (4) Strain the pasta and asparagus, and return immediately to the pot.

(5) Quickly stir cheese mixture into the hot noodles.  The heat will cook the eggs.  If you want to ensure cooking, you may stir noodles briefly over very low heat.  Be careful, as excessive heating will scramble the eggs.

(6) Gently toss in the shallots, pancetta, and garlic.

(7) In the reserved drippings, lightly fry the remaining eggs, keeping a soft center.  Top each dish with a fried egg, and serve.

Sanfords: Gourmet Comfort Cuisine at Diner Prices

I first discovered Sanfords one night when I was searching the web for restaurants that served into the wee hours.  When I stumbled across the 24 hour menu, and the realization set in that I could have anything from tuna tartar to a portabella panini, from steak frites to ebi fry shrimp, I rubbed my eyes in disbelief.  A restaurant with such a wide variety of offerings, with most items ranging from $7 to $12?  I have tried my fair share of 24-hour joints that boast a boatload of offerings, but rarely does the variety taste half as good as it looks.

Sanfords is the exception.  Not only would I recommend this place as a last stop on the way home after a late evening of drinking, but I would recommend it as a top brunch spot, the ideal lunch rendezvous, and a perfect casual date place.

Sanfords has been an Astoria destination for over 75 years, and after merely walking in the front door, you can see why.

Originally a 24 hour coffee shop, it has most recently been transformed by the Karalekas brothers, who took over for their father, a Greek immigrant.  One is a self-taught chef, and the other a certified sommelier (they boast an impressive selection of unique premium wines at surprisingly low prices).  Though I have yet to meet the brothers, I can tell you that their enthusiasm and passion for food and wine shines brilliantly through their menu.

While I have ordered from Sanfords for delivery, taken friends for lunch, and yes, stumbled in with friends on the way home after a few cocktails, I have consistently had wonderful experiences.  For brunch, I have to recommend the crab cakes benedict (plump, delicious, 100% lump crab meat), the corned beef hash (savory, hearty, and honestly the best of its kind), or the banana chocolate chip pancakes with 100% pure maple syrup.

At lunch, you have to try the flaky spring rolls filled with a delicious warm, herbed feta.  Their crunchy ranch quesadilla is loaded with crispy panko breaded chicken, bacon, red onions, guacamole, pepper jack, and ranch dressing.  You can even order a burger with meted fontina, caramelized onions, chipotle aioli... and two dollars of the price is donated to the Ronald McDonald house for children suffering from cancer.  Want to keep the meal at $10?  Try the pasta prix fixe, which includes soup or salad, and a beverage.  They offer an absolutely divine penne dish with grilled chicken, tossed in an avocado cream sauce (out of this world!)  

It's true, I have enjoyed Sanfords extensive menu on numerous occasions.  What impressed me most on this last visit was that not only was the food as exceptional as always, but we have had remarkable service every single time.

Our recent excursion was a late night, perhaps a little tipsy, twilight craving.  Our server, Mike, inevitably noticed our rosy countenances and heightened volume, but greeted us with a genuine smile.  I cannot imagine the graveyard shift to be a coveted one, but he helped us with our choices, and took noticeable pride in not only the food, but the entire experience.  I love knowing that just around the corner from my home, I can sit with great friends absolutely any time of day, enjoy an exceptional meal with genuine hospitality, and walk out without a noticeable dent in my pocket.

Order anything that piques your interest.  I imagine everything is great.  I can't fathom there's a bad server in the mix, either, but definitely request Mike if he is working.  He seems knowledgeable on the entire menu, and isn't afraid to help steer you in your choices.

The butternut squash ravioli tasted like thanksgiving in a pasta pillow swimming in creamy toasted almond and sage sauce.

We devoured the sesame-soy-marinaded tuna tartar, layered with creamy guacamole on a drizzle of wasabi aioli.

You absolutely have to try the hickory smoked pulled pork on corn-dusted kaiser roll.  This has been a favorite with everyone who tries it.  My roommate, Matty, refuses to order anything else.  It's one of the best pulled pork sandwiches ever.  Tender, lean, smoky deliciousness on a soft bun with warm seasoned fries and a ramekin of ketchup.  

The Sanfords panini on toasted fresh ciabatta is loaded with juicy grilled chicken, applewood bacon, apples, brie, and signature honey mustard.

A simple, extremely successful interpretation of chicken parmigiana.  Again, the panko bread crumbs here are key.  After cutting through the blanket of melted mozzarella, you still find a crispy golden breaded cutlet on a bed of linguine.  The aroma of tomato, basil, and garlic made everyone at the table try a bite.

Even if it means you have to forego an appetizer, or wrap a portion of your meal so that you can save room, you simply have to indulge in the banana caramel cheesecake xangos.  Warm, flaky pastry tortilla wrapped around creamy cheesecake and slivers of banana, in a bed of vanilla ice cream, chocolate, and butter caramel.  At $6, it's one of the best deals on the menu, and the perfect ending to share.

Located just off the Broadway stop off the N or W, right at the corner of Broadway and 31st St, you simply have to try Sanfords.  Whether going out, or staying in but craving delicious new American comfort food delivered right to your door, I feel confident that Sanfords will pleasantly surprise you.  They've already created a raving fan out of me.

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