Shawarma Soldier

Two years ago, I ate the kebab to end all kebabs. My always-hungry friend Z was visiting. I had an appointment to get my hair cut on Church Street, near Marylebone. I told him he could come along, poke around the antique sellers, and get a kebab from Lahore restaurant across the street, which sets up a kebab stall on market days. An hour into my appointment Z turned up with the most gorgeous lamb shish roll. The lamb was succulent, tender, and medium-rare with a hint of char, and complemented by crunchy salad, the homemade roti wrap was warm with that perfect chewy bite to it, and the sauces – one a garlicky yogurt sauce, and one a hot sauce – struck just the right balance of salty, savory, tangy, and spicy. The kebab plunged us into a fevered discussion of why there are no proper kebab shops in Seattle and spawned my quest to try all the delicious kebab rolls in London. Continue reading

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Saying Goodbye to Kilburn

Last week I moved from Kilburn to Bermondsey, i.e., from an area in which “food” and “restaurants,” are not the first, second, or even third thoughts that spring to mind, to London’s undisputed foodie mecca. There is not a lot I will miss about Kilburn, although live in a place long enough (in this instance, nine months) and you develop funny little attachments.

When I move to a new area, the first thing I do is investigate my food options. What restaurants are nearby? What markets? What food stores? In Kilburn, basically, the answer is “not a whole heck of a lot.” On the high road there’s a giant Sainsbury’s and a Mark’s and Spencer’s. There are a few tiny fruit and veg stalls. The best find on the high road is a decent, honest, independent fishmonger (B & J Fisheries, 147A Kilburn High Road), where fresh seafood is sold at reasonable prices. Around the corner from my flat, there is a Syrian and an Iranian grocer (Nour, 95 Chippenham Road, and Al Ghadir, 197 Shirland Road), where I bought big fragrant bunches of mint, parsley, and coriander, and occasionally made awesome finds: tiny dense intensely flavoured Persian apricots, golden perfumed Pakistani mangos, tender baby aubergines. And of course the Portobello Market is only a half-hour walk or short bus ride away.

I didn’t eat out as much in Kilburn as I would have liked, partly because it was hard to persuade people to come to me when the options were generally so much better near them, and partly because for most of the time I was there I was too broke for restaurants. A destination for fine dining Kilburn is not. Here are some of the highlights (and low lights). Continue reading

Eating in San Francisco – Mission Chinese Food

I’ve been unreasonably suspicious about the new trend of so-called “Americanized” Chinese food ever since I had a bad experience with this kind of restaurant in Seattle. So when I was last in San Francisco and my reliable foodie friends C and A said that they wanted to take me to Mission Chinese Food, I announced grandiosely and unpleasantly that I wasn’t interested, and could they take me somewhere else? For a burrito perhaps? “Come on, Sooz,” said A reproachfully. “Have we ever taken you anywhere you didn’t like? Do you think we’d suggest a restaurant to you if we didn’t think it was good?” I immediately felt horribly guilty. Of course I’d go to Mission Chinese Food. I wanted nothing more. I was sure it would be fantastic. I wasn’t, really, but it’s true that C and A have never taken me for a bad meal. (I wish I could say the same.)

I hadn’t done my research (i.e., I’ve been living in London for the past two years), but if I had I would have known that Mission Chinese Food was opened by one of San Francisco’s culinary darlings and, in the year and a half it has been open, has taken San Francisco by storm Continue reading

Eating in San Francisco – Dos Burritos

A couple of weeks ago, I was in San Francisco for exactly 48 hours.  I was guided by a single purpose:  to eat as many burritos as possible. Jonathan Kauffman (a.k.a. SF Foodie), a food writer I revere, had just published his top 10 San Francisco burritos, and the plan was to go on a burrito crawl (a great idea, right?), ideally hitting every one of them, as well as some of my own standbys that hadn’t made it onto his list.  I made it through exactly two burritos before admitting defeat. I know, I know – I wimped out – but in my defense, it’s HARD to eat ten burritos in two days, especially when your friends bring you morning buns and take you to Mission Chinese Food (so worth it!) and fancy taquerias. Also, my friends love me, but it didn’t seem fair to force them to eat only burritos just because I am obsessed.

All the same, I am EXCITED to write this blog post, because one of those two that I did manage to eat was the best burrito I have ever had. That is a statement of cold fact, uninflated by hyperbole. Continue reading

At long last, Gourmet San

To say that I am a fan of Szechuan food would be to grossly understate an essential truth. I have a hereditary predisposition for Szechuan food, passed down to me from my father (a Jew from New York for whom Chinese food is second in his heart only to my mother’s marvelous Polish-Jewish cooking). Like my dad, I LOVE Szechuan food, love the mingling of chili and numbing Szechuan peppercorn and spicy pickle and cured meats, the hot pots and smoky dark sauces and dense irregular hand shaven noodles, the pervasive garlic and fried peanuts and the crisp snap of vegetables rapidly cooked at extraordinary heat. Continue reading

Eating in Seattle – Marination Station

I’ve got a confession to make. I just got back from a trip to Seattle (where of COURSE I ate like a pig and drank lots of fabulous cocktails) and I still haven’t finished my restaurant write-ups from the last time I visited, two months ago.

Really, though, there’s only one review from that trip worth doing, and that’s the fabulously named Marination. I know that Korean Mexican fusion is old hat now. It’s all over LA, it’s proliferating in food trucks in Portland and San Francisco, and it has crept and spread eastward, like a virus, to Chicago, Atlanta, New York, and even London. (I’m not 100% sure about this last, but it sounded good.) But Seattle’s Marination Mobile, you must understand, was one of the forerunners of the movement. When the Marination Mobile food truck opened in Seattle, Korean Mexican fusion was new and daring and the Marination Mobile food truck (justifiably) got lots of press and even was voted best food truck in the USA by Good Morning America. Continue reading

Asadal – Korean Food to Beat the Lurgy

Apparently as the universe’s idea of a joke, I’ve been sick more or less nonstop since my return from the Caribbean nearly two weeks ago. ENOUGH ALREADY, UNIVERSE. I GET IT. Anyway, the subtler nuances of food and wine have pretty much been lost on me. The only thing I want to eat is hot soup. Preferably spicy.

Now, it should not come as a surprise to anyone who has read my blog that I am (perhaps inordinately) fond of chilis. So of course I love Korean food. There is some fantastic Korean food in Seattle, but in London there’s a lot of not-great Korean food, and even more not-great quite-pricy Korean food. For this reason I keep coming back to Asadal. Continue reading

Eating in Seattle – Il Corvo

I liked everything about Il Corvo before I ever ate there. The story: a fastidious craft-oriented pasta geek leaves his slick exec chef position at a trendy restaurant to set up what is, essentially, a pop-up in a gelateria. The concept: a few dishes prepared fresh daily by hand, using lovingly-accumulated antique collectible pasta-making equipment, priced within easy reach of budget-constrained diners like me. The principles: Il Corvo’s only open for lunch, Monday through Friday, so that chef Mike Easton can spend time with his family. This singleness of purpose bespeaks a degree of confidence Continue reading

Eating in Seattle – King Noodle

When I have a hangover, there is one kind of food I want to eat and one kind only: spicy noodle soup. Preferably with lots of meat in it, and extra chili peppers.

Those of you who have been following my Seattle exploits (now sadly behind me, like a distant dream) will not be surprised at all that by Saturday (after I concluded my second cocktail crawl), I was so toxic that noodle soup was not merely an option, it was a necessity. I was eager to try King Noodle, which had gotten rave reviews Continue reading