Food in the US – Mama’s Food Shop New York

You always knew that Mama wanted you to take care of yourself and eat well.  At this hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the East Village of Manhattan, you can get a healthy serving of good food prepared just the way your mother would want it to be.  This may sound like an advertising claim but it is actually an accurate description of what you find at Mama’s Food Shop.

Located on 3rd Street between Avenues A and B, Mama’s was a recommendation from our friend Biing during our visit to New York last summer.  Biing’s list of recommendations was too long to complete on our last visit, so we used this trip to check a few more items off it.

Arriving to our midtown hotel, the Affinia Dumont on 34th Street, on a rainy and cool Monday evening, we needed somewhere easy for dinner but didn’t want to take a chance on the unknown restaurants in the Murray Hill neighborhood that surrounds the hotel.  We hopped a taxi down to Alphabet City.

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The funky decor is shabby-chic with Christmas lights on one wall and portraits of mothers on the other.

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The floor is wooden, the seating eclectic and unassigned (table sharing is common), and the smell of frying chicken permeates the space and your clothing.

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The efficient kitchen turns out five mains each at $12 a plate with one side: fried chicken, roast chicken, roast pork shoulder, meatloaf, and pan-seared tilapia.  The sides include simple yet satisfying dishes such as mac and cheese, roasted beets, broccoli and garlic, mashed potatoes, and cole slaw.  Additional sides are $1 for an extra serving or you can buy them to-go in half-pint and pint quantities.

So a main with two sides works out to $13 – not overly expensive but not quite a bargain, either, until you consider the quantity and quality.

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My plate of roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and beets was huge – three pieces of chicken and a week’s worth of beets. 

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Tawn’s tilapia (they also do a veggie plate composed of three sides for $11) included two large fillets to go with the roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli.  Flavors were consistently good although the sides were not piping hot – possibly due to my picture taking.

All in all, Mama’s does right by their customers, including a 10% dinner discount for students.  The food is simple, healthy, and generous.  Next time I think we’ll skip on the extra sides and maybe even share a plate.

 

Food in the US – Lidia’s Kansas City

While I don’t have a lot more pictures to share of things we did in the US, I will share a series of entries about some of the food we ate.  I’m a big believer in the value that a good meal adds to your life.  Not only quality food and careful preparation but also good company, all of which are necessary to really eat well.  This first entry is about Lidia’s Kansas City, the first location of several restaurants opened by Italian grandmother and public broadcasting celebrity Lidia Bastianich.

Andy already wrote about this meal, so if you read his blog as well, you’re in for a rerun especially as his camera is better than mine.  Nonetheless, humor me with this entry.

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Lidia’s was the location of our wedding reception last August.  It is a charming space in a converted freight warehouse adjacent to the rail yards across from Union Station.  Service is great and the food is prepared with a lot of attention and love.  Just the kind of place to celebrate our union.  In fact, the waitress who served us on our most recent visit turned out to be one of the waitresses who had worked our reception. She was very excited to see us back and took good care of us during our meal – a good reminder of why it is always a good idea to treat servers very well.

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Andy and Sugi made the drive down from Omaha to visit us and spend the night in KC.  While I grouse in my entries about the feeling of having to make lots of appointments and visits with people while we’re in the US, that really doesn’t apply quite as much when we’re in Kansas City, where most of the people we know are family.  Andy and Sugi feel just like part of the family and seeing them was one of the highlights of our trip, and a reminder of how much we miss close friends while we live overseas.

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A Friday evening, it seemed appropriate to begin with drinks before moving on to a really nice bottle of wine.  I’ve recently decided that Campari and soda is my new apéritif of the moment – the bitters are nicely refreshing.

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Lidia’s features a nice selection of homemade bread, including some of the lightest breadsticks I’ve ever enjoyed.  The menu includes seasonal selections with an emphasis on locally grown produce and meat.  There is a three-course fixed price menu for $32 which is a good value given the quality of the food.

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Choosing from three “primi” or first-course offerings, I enjoyed the Montasio Cheese Frico.  Kind of like a quesadilla made without the tortilla, the frico has potato, leek, and in this case lump crab fried with melted cheese until crisp.  It is then topped with a light salad.  Very refreshing and flavorful start to the meal.

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For my “secondi” I chose the Battutina of Veal.  As the name implies, it is a battered (pounded) veal steak that is fried and served with broccoli, prosciutto, and a Taleggio sage-tomato sauce.  Despite its tenderizing, the veal wasn’t all that tender.  It was very flavorful, though.  In hindsight, I should have enjoyed the risotto with Gorgonzola and pear instead.

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Andy enjoyed a wild boar ravioli.  Lidia’s gets bonus points for all of their pasta being homemade.  An excellent touch that makes all the difference in terms of taste and texture.

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Another option on the menu is the bottomless tasting of a trio of pastas, the selection of which changes daily.  Servers bring pans around, refilling as long as you’d like more pasta.  Of course, no obligation to take seconds, but if you want just a few more bites of your favorite, of course that’s okay!

Today’s trio included a spinach linguini with shrimp and tomato sauce, a rigatoni with butter and herbs, and a wild mushroom ravioli.  All were very nice – my favorite was the mushroom ravioli. 

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Why is it important to treat your servers well?  Because when you come back next time they treat you well in return.  After we ordered dessert, our waitress brought us a plate of homemade cookies, candied orange peel, and vanilla gelato.  Yummy. 

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We split two desserts including this very good tiramisu.

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We also had this Torta del Mascarpone, a Mascarpone cheesecake with pistachio crust, vanilla rhubarb, and salted pistachio brittle.  I’m a sucker for anything with rhubarb in it.  Beebop-a-reebop rhubarb pie, if you know that reference.

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After dinner Tawn, Sugi, Andy, and I posed for a picture against the original brick wall of the freight warehouse.  Interesting artwork on the wall, eh?

It was a wonderful dinner with wonderful company, followed up by some more wine and conversation at the Trio Cafe on the Country Club Plaza.  As we called it a night, the freezing rain was coming down.  By the time Andy and Sugi dropped us off at my sister’s house, the first flakes of snow were falling.

 

Recap of the Trip to the US

After twenty days abroad, I am nearly home, sitting in the Taipei airport awaiting my flight back to Krungthep.  Every trip back to the US and return to Thailand provokes similarly moody thoughts: an awareness that the US doesn’t feel like home anymore and an equal awareness that as much as I like living in Thailand, that doesn’t quite feel like home, either.

Each trip back also produces a similar feeling of exhaustion, of trying to pack too much into the trip, trying to see too many people along the way and not even succeeding in that.  I could explore that issue more deeply but won’t get into it now.  I need, however, to take a trip to somewhere I don’t know anyone.

Thankfully, I did conclude the trip with this stop in Taipei, two nights and a day to wander around, explore the city, eat good food, and other than dinner with an old friend from San Francisco, have no commitments.  With the beautiful springlike weather, it was a much-needed relaxing end to the trip.

Instead of trying to recount my trip in detail, I’m going to share some highlight pictures.  I will, however, do some separate entries in the next few days about some of the meals we ate.

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After a day of springlike weather in Kansas City, we were greeted on our second morning there with snow.  The accumulation ended up at eight inches – quite a hefty amount! 

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The snow gave me the opportunity to shovel a few driveways as well as an awareness that I really don’t want to live somewhere that receives snow.  It was pretty for taking pictures, though.

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As the weather returned to Spring later in our trip, my youngest niece Ava had the opportunity to pedal around the garage and show off her bicycle riding skills.  We really enjoyed spending lots of time with both nieces and it is interesting to watch them grow so quickly.  I realize it won’t be too many more years before they are so wrapped up in their own lives that they won’t really want to spend a lot of time with their uncles.

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The primary reason to be there was to celebrate the nieces’ birthdays, one at the start of the month and the other at the end.  We split the difference and visited in the middle.  The cake is a strawberry confetti cake that I made.

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Perhaps the greater reason to visit, though, was to see our grandparents.  My grandmother turned 90 this past week and my grandfather will turn 90 in July, when we return for a family reunion.  As busy and active as they are, you could easily mistake them for people in their late 70s.

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The next stop was New York City – Center of the Universe.  As the line goes in the musical Rent, “it’s a comfort to know, when you’re singing the hit-the-road blues, that anywhere else you can possibly go after New York… is a pleasure cruise.”  Tawn recreates the dance sequence from the movie version of Rent when they sing the song “Santa Fe”.

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New York is a city that we both like very much, perhaps a place we could live for a few years in the future.  We both have our own agendas while in New York, agendas that overlap on only one subject: food.

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I found a charming shop that imports handmade pottery and clayware from France in Greenwich Village.  Ended up buying a cute pitcher – small pitchers are something I enjoy and would probably collect them if it wasn’t for my awareness that there’s no need to have more than a few pitchers.

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Had an opportunity to look for interesting things to photograph.  There turns out to be no shortage of them, some of which may more interesting to visitors than to locals.

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Tested out the new camera and the 18mm wide angle lens attachment while wandering through Times Square.  It works very nicely!

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Went to see “Wicked” at the Gershwin Theatre.  A fun show and very enjoyable, although we were frustrated by what seem to be a poor sound system.  Despite good seats, it was often difficult to understand the lyrics.

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While Tawn went shopping, our friend Biing and I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, something I had never done before.  It is an impressive span and there’s a nice view of the city from Brooklyn.

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We stayed at the Afinia Dumont Hotel on 34th Street between Third and Lexington, a perfect midtown location.  While the neighborhood isn’t very charming, it is safe and very convenient.  Here’s a view looking up the street – the hotel is in the middle of the block on the other side of the street – towards the Empire State Building just after sunset.  The hotel is a very good value for the money with large rooms and a friendly staff.

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Perhaps a bit touristy and pricey to boot, but Tawn and I went to the Top of the Rock – the observation deck that occupies what was once the Rainbow Room at the top of the GE Building in Rockefeller Center.  It was a windy day and there was a very good view of the entire city.

 

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Arriving in Los Angeles about noon on the 26th, I managed to snap this pretty amazing picture.  From where I was sitting I could see that the American B777 was rolling down the parallel runway for take-off.  It was just a matter of timing the picture so I would get the plane in the field of view.  Tawn had a few hours layover before connecting to his nonstop flight home.  I spent the night in LA and visited San Diego the next morning before flying to Taipei.

 

Heading Home

Heading home.  That’s what I’m doing.  After sixteen days in the United States, I’m sitting in the lounge at Los Angeles International Airport waiting to board my flight in twenty minutes.  I’ve taken more than 1,000 pictures during this trip, have eaten many memorable meals, and have lots of stories to share.  I’ll get back to that in a few days.

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For the moment, though, I’ll just leave you this picture I took shortly after checking in.  My plane is the one on the right.  It is taking me to Taipei (in business class thanks to an upgrade!) where I’ll spend two nights before continuing to Bangkok.

I hope you’re all well.

 

Nasty Flight Attendant

Here in New York, arriving Monday after a annoyingly long delay at Chicago O’Hare, explained by the ill-defined reason, “air traffic control.”  There were rain showers in New York and JFK Airport’s longest runway is closed for a four-month reconstruction, so this may have caused the delay – even though we were flying into LaGuardia.

The worst of it, though, was the terrible attitude of our United flight attendants.  This was their final flight to their home base so I imagine they were as eager as the rest of us to get on the flight and depart, but never have I been talked to in so martial a tone as on this flight.  They were barking at passengers about bag storage, boarding procedures, etc. 

Tawn put his larger bag in the overhead bin and folded his trench coat to place it next to the bag.  “On top of the bag, sir!  Put your coat on top of your bag!” shouted a flight attendant from several rows away, ignoring the fact that Tawn’s bag filled the bin to its ceiling.  Finally, he just put the coat in his lap rather than receive any more verbal abuse.

Eventually the overhead bins filled and bags needed to be gate checked.  Nothing unusual about this and, I would imagine, an unsurprising consequence of the airline’s policy to charge for checked baggage.  But what shocked me was the announcement another flight attendant made:

Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for the need to gate check bags.  Despite out repeated announcements, other passengers did not store their bags in the overhead bins properly so there was not room to accommodate your bags…

I cannot believe he said that.  Is there any question as to why United no longer gets my paying business?  In all my years of flying I have never heard a flight attendant use an announcement to blame passengers.

Anyhow, we’re in New York.  It was rainy last night but we had a tasty dinner at Mama’s Food Shop.  I have some pictures of this place in the East Village but they are still on the camera.  You’ll have to wait for ’em.

Cheers!

Chef Burger

Before the snows hit us Friday night, we took the nieces to downtown Kansas City’s Power and Light District, for a special “uncles and nieces only” lunch at Chef Burger.

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Ava bundled up on a chilly afternoon.  The Power and Light District is a new entertainment zone in downtown KC that was finished in the last year.  In an attempt to revive the mordant downtown, the KC government has worked with developers to build housing, restaurants, new theatres (live stage as well as a cinema), and shopping (including a Costentino’s grocery store that is very nice).  If we moved here, I could imagine buying a place downtown.

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The girls with me, waiting for the burgers to arrive.

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This burger has bacon, an onion ring, barbeque sauce, and blue cheese.  It was wonderful.  Especially the bun, which is a freshly-baked egg roll.

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Sweet potato fries.  Emily wouldn’t try them since they had the words “sweet potato” in the name.  Ava, however, thought they were much better than the waffle fries.

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Ava and Emily enjoy their real ice cream shakes.  Needless to say, the majority of the calories consumed were in liquid form.

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Afterwards, Emily and Ava practiced some tap dancing steps on the hardwood deck outside the restaurant before we walked back to the car.  Stopping at Cosentino’s grocery, we bought some chocolate truffles, everyone picking one truffle each.  I bought a curry truffle which was decorated like a pair of dice.  The girls wanted to try and although I warned them they wouldn’t like it, they surprisingly did.  “Tastes like pumpkin,” said Ava.  Anything that’s covered in chocolate must be okay.

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We stopped by my grandparents’ house, which isn’t that far from downtown.  My parents were there, too, so we enjoyed a game which Ava and Emily directed.  Kind of a version of musical chairs in which we passed toys from person to person and whomever did not have a toy when the music stopped, was deemed “out”.

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Later in the day, back at my sister and brother-in-law’s house, it was time for some exercise.  Tawn showed the girls some yoga moves.

Today is our last day in KC then we’re off to New York tomorrow.  Just a few days there and then we head back towards the Pacific.  Obviously, my entries are a bit off chronologically.  Bear with me, please.