Monthly Archives: November 2016

The Burger Bistro

The menu at The Burger Bistro

I’m such a sucker for customizable meals. Let me build my own anything and I’ll probably end up your most loyal customer. So for me, The Burger Bistro was a no-brainer. Pretty much all they do is customizable burgers—with two million possible outcomes, according to their slogan—so obviously, obviously, I had to try it out.

First, though, allergen information. To my pleasant surprise, The Burger Bistro is one of the most allergen-aware restaurants I’ve dealt with—which isn’t really saying all that much, but which is nice nonetheless. There are no nuts or nut products of any kind in their kitchen, and as for buns, the spiel is as follows:

I cannot attest that the bakery we get fresh rolls from is nut free. But I offer a potato roll, sliders, gluten free roll and a lettuce wrap that I can guarantee are nut free. All breads are kept separate. If you decide to dine with us I will personally make sure we open a brand new package of bread and not cross contaminate anything. I understand your concerns and that’s the exact reason why we do not have nuts in our locations.

Pretty, pretty, pretty good. (Seriously.) I’ll gladly limit myself to—ugh—potato buns if it means continued existence on my part. That’s a fair trade-off, I think. (I should probably mention, though, that The Burger Bistro does offer ice-cream sandwiches, which aren’t, as far as I know, guaranteed to be totally free from cross-contamination. No big deal, though; the rest of the food really does seem safe, and I’m 100% comfortable with all of it, with the exception of the rolls mentioned above.)

A nut-free burger from The Burger Bistro

The first time I went, I had no idea what to order. It was the Fourth of July, and all I knew was that I wanted a burger. But what kind of burger? At The Burger Bistro, there are so, so, so many options: 8 patties, 10 cheeses, 13 toppings, 6 sauces, and 7 buns (or bun substitutes). They’ll nickel and dime you for just about everything, but still—you’ll have a lot of freedom, and it’s hard not to take advantage.

We started with the deep-fried corn on the cob, which was sort of like a sweeter version of corn tempura…minus the tempura batter. I liked it, as did Sam—but $9 for a few halved corn cobs? I wasn’t quite disappointed with the dish, but I don’t think I’d order it again. But the appetizer stage passed quickly, and within a few minutes, it was burger time.

I ended up with a pretty standard burger: potato roll, beef patty, mozzarella cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and a fried egg. Boring? Maybe. But if The Burger Bistro were really all it claimed to be, such a simple burger would’ve been the restaurant’s chance to shine. That was my logic, at least—but the burger just wasn’t very good. I won’t hate on the bun, because I know it isn’t The Burger Bistro’s fault that potato rolls are inherently terrible at supporting much of anything (nor is it their fault, really, that their probably-way-better brioche rolls aren’t nut-free), but I will hate on their beef, because what the fuck?

Listen. If I’m going to a restaurant that specializes in burgers, I’m going to expect the beef—the main character!—to be good, especially at around $15 per burger. I don’t care that the offered Kobe beef, tuna steak, bison (get real), or lamb might be worlds better; it’s a burger joint, and the standard beef patties should be reliably good, at the very least. But they aren’t. They’re the right size (nice and big, without being too thick) but they’re undeniably boring. More mushy than tender, they don’t have much of a sear on the outside—and the medium-rare isn’t much of a medium-rare; it’s more of a medium, if you ask me. Lame.

The rest of the ingredients were all right, I guess. The egg was fine, but its yolk wasn’t runny enough. There were plenty of onions, whose presence I always appreciate—and the lettuce, though fast food–quality, was inoffensive. The tomato was your average not-particularly-flavorful tomato, the mozzarella was fine, and the potato bun was a potato bun. Call me underwhelmed.

Sam’s burger was similar, as were his impressions—but our mediocre experience didn’t keep us from going back. It may have taken us four whole months, but we did return to The Burger Bistro, determined to find some way to squeeze some fun out of their burgers.

A nut-free burger (with pineapple) from The Burger Bistro

Now, I’m still a (big) believer in sticking with the classics, especially at restaurants that have generally failed to impress me—but in the interest of fun-squeezing, I decided to switch it up a bit, namely by adding some grilled pineapple to my burger, which is pictured immediately above. (Otherwise, I did keep it simple: potato bun, medium-rare beef patty, and onions. I didn’t want to cheese-up my pineapple, nor did pineapple and tomato sound all that complementary. And their sauce selection leaves much to be desired…so I went sauceless.)

Still, the burger was good. Not good-good—it had the same problems as the last, and I think the patty was even a bit blander—but good enough to enjoy, at least. The pineapple was great (though I could’ve used more), and should I ever find myself back at The Burger Bistro, I’d definitely order it again. Even for $1.50—which is what each and every topping, cheese, and sauce costs to add on. (Ridiculous.)

Frizzled onions from The Burger Bistro

That night, I also tried the frizzled onions, which were surprisingly good—until they’d cooled down, that is. While hot, they weren’t the slightest bit soggy, nor did they taste mostly of bland grease (as do most frizzled onions and onion rings, in my experience). Instead, they were crispy, soggy, and satisfying—and the portion was huge, too, given that it’d only cost $5. Final verdict: reasonably pleased, would re-order.

So…I don’t have any grand plans to return to The Burger Bistro (not soon, at least)—but I appreciate its existence nonetheless. Allergy-aware restaurants are always, always, always an asset, so I’m (at the very least) glad to have found this one. Is the food to-die-for? No, it isn’t. And is it reasonably priced? Well…not particularly. But if you manage to find the right stuff to order—and good luck, among the literal millions of options—the food’s enjoyable enough.

Find The Burger Bistro in Park Slope, at 177 5th Avenue, between Berkeley and Lincoln, and in Bay Ridge, at 7217 3rd Avenue, between 72nd and 73rd. (Everything I’ve written in this post has been based exclusively on my experiences at the Park Slope location. I’ve never been to their Bay Ridge restaurant.)

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Sushi Katsuei

Usuzukuri from Sushi Katsuei

When I think sushi—good sushi—Park Slope definitely isn’t the first (or second or third or eighth) neighborhood that comes to mind. But when I read about Sushi Katsuei—Michelin-recommended, and identified by The Infatuation as the home of the best sushi in Brooklyn—I figured it just might be worth a try. So one Sunday night, when the few nut-free Japanese restaurants that were open didn’t have anything available for three, I made my way to 7th Avenue, with Sam and my dad in tow.

Of course, before showing up, I called to make sure Sushi Katsuei was suitably nut-free. Everything I’d read had sounded promising, and I couldn’t really imagine nuts showing up in an omakase, but I’m not about to bet my life on an assumption, so I asked. Twice. And both times, I was told that Sushi Katsuei doesn’t use any tree nuts (or peanuts) in any of their food. So, while they aren’t explicitly nut-free, they’re close enough for me

When Sam and I arrived, we decided to sit at the bar (which is omakase-only). My dad was maybe 5 minutes late, but by the time he got there, we’d already been sorta-hounded by multiple servers to, you know, order. The restaurant wasn’t particularly crowded, so I’m not really sure why the urgency, but when my dad arrived and we finally placed our order, everyone chilled the fuck out, thank God.

We went with the omakase that included both sushi and sashimi, because why not—and we (well, I) got some usuzukuri, too (pictured at the top of this post). The usuzukuri was good—I especially appreciated the scallions, though I could’ve used some more—but it was hard to pay attention to the dish with such a well-reviewed omakase looming.

Tuna sashimi and an oyster from Sushi Katsuei

But as soon as the usuzukuri was gone, the omakase ceased to loom; our sashimi platters had arrived, and it was time to eat. The selection included fluke, Spanish mackerel, squid, chutoro, and—get this—an oyster, and, for the most part, it was pretty good.

The fluke, which had a little salt on top, was nice and fresh, though a little bland—but the mackerel, scallion-topped, was surprisingly tasty. I also really liked the squid, which was cut into strips and coated with spicy cod roe. It was just chewy enough (which is, I guess, what I always say about squid I like), and the roe added a nice, subtle heat to the whole ordeal.

The chutoro (pictured above, on the left), was very underwhelming, though, and the oyster (above on the right)…well, it made me reach for my water. It tasted too much of the sea, even for an oyster, and it was filled with debris. Not so great, then. (Not for me, at least. Not for me.)

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So the sashimi was a little hit-or-miss. Fine. But I still had hope for the sushi—which turned out to be much better, on the whole. There were quite a few pieces I couldn’t identify, though, so bear with me as I try to write about my ever-important opinions.

Two of the first pieces were yellowtail and sea bream (both pictured above, the former on the left and the latter on the right). Both were good, but I preferred the sea bream, if only because it wasn’t topped with anything (but salt!). I almost always prefer my sushi unadulterated, but Katsuei’s chefs are really big on topping their fish with this, that, or the other thing. As offenders go, Katsuei isn’t as egregious as, say, Sushi of Gari—but as the tasting went on, I found myself wishing I could get some plain, soy-brushed (or perhaps salt-topped) fish.

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We also had some otoro (left) and some Hokkaido uni (right, duh)—and frankly, neither was all that great. The otoro, while fine, was exactly as underwhelming as the chutoro (and to tell you the truth, I didn’t quite believe it was otoro), and the uni, while tasty at first, had an overbearingly bitter aftertaste, which definitely didn’t help things.

But forget those two pieces. My two favorite bites of the night were the salmon (below, left) and the torched something-or-other (below, right). The salmon, sufficiently, fatty, was topped with some sort of sesame-tasting nori-ish business, and I loved it—not despite its topping, but because of it. And the torched whatever was supremely buttery—not to mention the fact that it was garnished with the only topping I might just love unconditionally: scallions (!!!). So good.

Salmon and an unidentified piece of sushi from Sushi Katsuei

Anyway. While the the meal was certainly a little inconsistent, quality-wise, I did enjoy myself at Sushi Katsuei. The good bites were good enough to carry me through the bad ones—and the bad ones weren’t bad so much as disappointing, really. Our servers were doting, our chef was jovial, and the atmosphere, while not all that nice, was nice enough. So I had a fine time—and perhaps I’ll even return.

Find Sushi Katsuei in Park Slope, at 210 7th Avenue (between 2nd and 3rd Streets).

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The Pickle Guys

An employee scooping up some pickled vegetables at The Pickle Guys

A pickle’s just a pickle, right? Wrong. So wrong. These pickles are special, and I already know I’m not going to be able to do them justice. Here’s to trying, though.

When I started eating at Katz’s—and believe me, I started—I stopped eating pickles. Theirs are beautiful, but I just can’t deny how bad they taste. Their new pickles are basically just unadulterated cucumbers (ick! not for me), and their full-sours are just too sour for human consumption. I know, of course, that there are better pickles out there, but…I don’t know. The ones at Katz’s totally demoralized me, so I’ve been off pickles for a while now.

But whenever I walk over to Kossar’s—home of some of the best bagels ever—I can’t help but gaze longingly at The Pickle Guys, a real-deal Lower East Side institution that sells—can you guess?—pickles, and lots of them. But cucumbers are not the only thing The Pickle Guys brine; they also do olives, tomatoes, pineapples, mangoes, beets, peppers, okra, string beans, garlic, turnips, and a whole bunch of other shit, too. (Plus, come Passover, the employees grab their gas masks and head out to the sidewalk to grind up absurd amounts of horseradish. I don’t know about you, but happen to think that’s pretty badass.)

Part of the menu at The Pickle Guys

After walking by enough times (and after doing some Pickle Guys–related reading), I decided I couldn’t put it off any longer. I’d have to stop by, and soon. Before I could, though, I (of course) had to make sure their food wouldn’t kill me—so I sent them an email, asking whether they might have any nuts on-site. Within a day or two, I had my answer: “No we don’t use any tree nuts. We used to carry Almond Stuffed Olives but that was over 2 years ago.” Sweet. (Sour?…I’ll see myself out.)

Anyway, I stopped by on the first day of Sukkot, which meant the store would be closing at 4pm, rather than the usual 6pm. Despite that—or maybe because of it—there was a line out the door and a moderately large crowd of pickle-suckers beside it. (They were loud. The suckers, I mean. I think they were on one of those godforsaken “food tours.” It was disconcerting, on multiple levels.) Really, though, I didn’t mind the crowding (and neither did Sam, who might just love pickles two or three times as much as he loves me). Nothing was going to come between us and our brined produce.

In we went, then.

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Inside, there is not a single frill in sight. The bulk of the teeny-tiny space is occupied by big, red barrels, each carrying a different sort of pickle. One wall’s exposed brick; the other, painted white, bears a menu, above which a single sentence is printed in all caps: “PLEASE KEEP HANDS OUT OF BARRELS.” Noted. There’s a slight breeze (fan-sourced) and a strong, strong smell of all things pickley. Employees move quickly and take orders via shout, scooping pickles into plastic containers, pausing only to offer samples and to poke fun at customers.

The employees are obviously proud of their product, and the customers all seem to know that something good’s about to come their way, so one seems much to mind all the chaos. (Plus, it’s not all that chaotic. The whole affair actually runs rather smoothly, despite its disorganized appearance. It’s quick, easy, and painless—plus, you walk out with pickles. Good deal.)

Though the line was long, it moved quickly—so quickly, in fact, that by the time our turn came, we hadn’t yet decided what to order. I decided to wing it, which resulted in my ending up with a whole bunch of shit: a new pickle, a full-sour, a half-sour, a quart of three-quarter-sours, some sweet gherkins, some Greek olives, a lot of grape tomatoes, and a particularly overstuffed quart of string beans.

Once we’d paid, Sam and I headed over to a nearby park bench for some sampling (and some photos that apparently couldn’t wait. Sorry. For the extra-lame photos and for how much of Sam’s fingers you’re about to see).

First, we ate our singular pickles, beginning with the mildest. Here, from left to right, is a new pickle, a half-sour, and a full-sour:

Three pickles from The Pickle Guys

Now, I’ve literally never enjoyed a new pickle. I have a rule: “fuck the flavor of cucumber.” But I’m happy to make an exception for these pickles. I think I like them so much because they aren’t just cucumber-y; they’re also just salty enough, just sour enough, just far enough from your average cucumber that they’ve actually been able to win me over. And like the rest of The Pickle Guys’s pickles, these have a snap (and spray!) that’s straight-up absurd. Like, holy shit. I’ve never bit into a pickle so satisfying.

The half-sours and three-quarter-sours are great, too. Naturally, they’re just what you’d expect: a sourer (and sourer yet) version of the new pickle I so loved. I don’t really have a preference between the two—which I’d rather eat probably depends on little more than my mood—so I’ll leave it at this: Both are good. So good.

With regard to the full-sour…well, it was my least favorite of the bunch, but I blame that on the facts that (a) I ate it last, when I was probably a little pickled out; (b) I ate it alone (that is, without the sort of grease-soaked entree such a sour pickle usually balances out; and (c) I spilled some of its (near-overabundant) juice on my pants, which, um, gave me a little bit of a bias, I guess. Still, a great pickle (if you’re into full-sours), and a worthy companion to a deliciously greasy meal.

But we didn’t stop there. (How could we have?!) Below (clockwise, beginning on the upper left) is a pint of string beans, a half-pint of Greek olives, a half-pint of sweet gherkins, and a half-pint of grape tomatoes:

Pickled string beans, Greek olives, grape tomatoes, and

The string beans are nice and snappy, but thinner and more manageable than a regular pickle, were delicious, and the grape tomatoes, which seriously taste like they were fresh from the farmers’ market, are even better. Sam and I liked them so much, in fact, that we ended up re-braving the line to get our hands on an additional pint (which was also when we picked up the pint—yes, pint—of three-quarter-sours).

That was where our fun ended, though. Neither of us much enjoyed the sweet gherkins (too sweet!), nor were we able to find much use for the Greek olives (too salty!), so we ended up giving them away. Honestly, neither product was bad; they just weren’t…to our tastes, though I’m sure they’d be fine in the right hands (or dish).

There are still approximately half a billion Pickle Guys products I want to try: pineapples, bread & butter pickles, tomatoes (both sliced and unsliced), and some other types of olives, to name a few. But it’ll be a while, because at the moment, my fridge is well over its pickle capacity. They keep for a while, though—and I can’t stop eating them—so I’m really not all that worried.

In any case, if I haven’t yet made it clear enough: The Pickle Guys is a lovely, lovely, store, and their pickles are practically unbeatable.

Find The Pickle Guys at 49 Essex Street, between Grand and Hester. They’re strictly kosher, though—so don’t even think of stopping by on the Sabbath.

P.S. Here‘s some awesome pickle-related fiction, which I highly recommend.

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Eleni’s: NYC’s Only Nut-Free Bakery

A wall of nut-free cookies at Eleni's

[Edit: As of the new year—that’s 2017—Eleni’s has closed its Chelsea Market storefront. Everything’s still available through their website, though.]

Eleni’s just might be New York City’s most well-known nut-free establishment. At the very least, it’s the city’s only full-fledged nut-free bakery. And, it’s (to my dismay…) one of the first few Google results for “nut-free New York”—or it was a few months ago, before Google decided to start kissing my ass and showing me (and me alone) my own blog above all else. In any case, Eleni’s is important, so I figured it was about time I write about it.

Boring stuff out of the way first, though. Eleni’s is 100% nut-free, in the most legitimate sense of the term. There are no peanuts or tree nuts allowed in their bakery, and they require allergen statements from all of their vendors, too. They also test periodically for the presence of nuts in both their bakery and their Chelsea Market storefront. (And by the way, all their products are kosher, too.)

img_6613Nut-free chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting from Eleni's

Located within Chelsea Market, Eleni’s is sort of out of the way. On the bright side, though, it’s maybe a 30-second walk from Los Tacos No. 1, which consistently churns out some of the best tacos in this city. That place is seriously delightful, and actually motivates me to deal with the straight-up horrors of Chelsea Market. But I’m here to talk about Eleni’s, so I’d better, um…get to doing that.

Eleni’s sells a pretty wide array of products—cupcakes (traditional and mason-jarred), brownies, popcorn, whoopie pies, chocolate-covered pretzels, and, of course, cookies: hand-iced cookies, soft cookies, crisp cookies, photo-printed cookies, and even colorable cookies. Very obviously, the place is geared toward children—which would be fine by me if its products were good enough to pass the adult (or quasi-adult) taste test. Unfortunately, though, most aren’t.

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Cupcakes and cookies are clearly the bakery’s main focus, so you might expect those, at least, to be good. But they aren’t. The cupcakes, though cute-as-can-be, are ridiculously sweet, and the cookies…well, they’re hit-or-miss. The boxed cookies (i.e. the crisp cookies, which are, I think, the only Eleni’s product sold in grocery stores) are good, but the hand-iced cookies are, again, too sweet (and too expensive). For (what I hope to be) obvious reasons, I’ve never tried the Color Me! cookies, but they seem to be nearly the same as the hand-iced cookies, minus some color. And then there are the soft cookies—good when they’re soft, but rock-hard (and pretty bad) by the end of the day.

Still, the cupcakes (and the super-sweet cookies) are absolutely perfect for children. As a kid, I know I would’ve loved each and every one of Eleni’s cupcakes, should they ever have found their way into my greedy, sticky five-year-old paws. But they didn’t, and now I’m 20, with a palate that’s (only a little) less tolerant of absurd amounts of sugar, so I have a hard time getting through even a single Eleni’s cupcake. Oh well.

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The brownies, though, are another story. They’re rich and chocolatey, without being overly sweet—and all the varieties (chocolate chip, cheesecake, salted caramel, and s’mores) are pretty damn good. Beware, though: they, too, transform into something else by the end of the day, having lost all their moisture (and having become rather icky indeed). If you can manage to snag one early, though, I’d certainly recommend doing so, as it’s not easy to find nut-free brownies as good as these.

I also love, love, love the chocolate-covered pretzels. I don’t have much to say about them—they’re just your average, run-of-the-mill chocolate-covered pretzels, with (fortunately) no frills or added “bonuses”—but I have a special place in my heart for them, given how difficult it is to find nut-free chocolate-covered pretzels. (Seriously. Try looking for safe ones in stores. You won’t find any.) They’re grotesquely overpriced, sure. But they’re safe, and they’re tasty, so I buy them.

Aside from the brownies and the pretzels, though, there isn’t much at Eleni’s that I buy often. I always want a cupcake or two, but I (sort of) know better than to spend any more money on a product I know I don’t like, so usually, I find the self-control to abstain. The same goes for the whoopie pies—I know they’re too sweet, but I always, always want one. As long as I can quickly redirect myself toward the brownies, though, things tend to turn out all right.

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I’ve been pretty mean to Eleni’s, I know. It isn’t my fault their bakers are so heavy on the sugar, obviously—but I do feel bad for hating on the place, given its lovely mission. I mean, come on: it’s a decidedly nut-free bakery. How many of those exist in the entire world, even? New York City has The Donut Pub and Everybody Eats, sure—but the former’s a one-trick pony, and the latter’s gluten-free (and focused almost exclusively on bread, anyway). Eleni’s is, as far as I know, the only nearby business of its kind—so what kind of a person would I be if I weren’t grateful for its existence?

Anyway, I’m (sort of) sorry for trash-talking the place. For those of you who need to steer clear of nuts—which is only, like, 60% of my readership, for reasons that are totally beyond me—I’d say Eleni’s is definitely worth a try. Especially if you’re really into sugar (and especially-especially if you have children).

Find Eleni’s inside of Chelsea Market, which is itself located at 75 9th Avenue, between 15th and 16th Streets. (Or, if it’s just the boxed cookies you’re after, check out Whole Foods, Dean & Deluca, Gourmet Garage, Grace’s Marketplace, or Morton Williams.)

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Sensational Sweets

An assortment of Chippers from Sensational Sweets

Despite my nut allergy, I’ve always felt pretty satisfied with the chocolate at my disposal. There are so many nut-free brands—Vermont Nut Free, PASCHA Chocolate, Dean’s Sweets, Videri Chocolate Factory—and there are tons of regular (i.e. not allergen-free) brands that work for me, too. So it’s not as if I spend much time scouring the Internet for more safe chocolate. (In fact, I intentionally abstain from any such scouring, precisely because I have way more than enough chocolate in my life.)

How did I find Sensational Sweets, then? Well…I didn’t. Sensational Sweets found me—but I’m actually really glad they did. A few weeks ago, one of their employees sent me a message, and—medium-length story short—I now have a box of samples sitting on my coffee table. (Yes, free samples, though I did pay for shipping. Of course, I’ll still be giving my honest opinion—and only my honest opinion.)

Allergen information first, though. Fortunately, at Sensational Sweets (and at Creative Cookie, which is owned by the same folks) there really isn’t much to go over. Their entire facility is nut-free and kosher-certified, and they have some gluten-free products, too. (Here‘s their catalog, which has the words “nut-free” all over it. And here‘s Creative Cookie’s.)

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Onto the products themselves, though. They offer a whole bunch of different stuff, all made to order: Chippers (tiny pieces of white chocolate bark), fudge bites, chocolate-drizzled popcorn, chocolate-covered Oreos, chocolate “pizzas,” chocolate-covered pretzels, Tropical Fruit Crunch (trail mix, but pretzel-based), and Pollylops (chocolate on a stick, basically). And over at Creative Cookie, there are fortune cookies, microwave cakes, microwave fudge, and, um, chip dips. (Don’t ask.)

Out of all those, they sent me some popcorn, a mini-pizza, some fudge bites, a microwavable cake mix, and a whole bunch of Chippers. And to my (admittedly mild) amusement, pretty much nothing was as I expected it to be.

The first thing I tried was the drizzled popcorn (pictured immediately above—as if you don’t know which of the photos in this post is the one of popcorn). Honestly, I’d expected it to be really boring; it’s just chocolate-drizzled popcorn—how good could it be? But for real, this stuff isn’t the slightest bit boring. Somehow, each piece is perfectly sweet, salty, and buttery. None of the flavors ever overwhelm the others, and none of the ingredients taste stale, which isn’t something I get to say anywhere near often enough. Definitely a product I would (and probably soon will) pay for.

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Next came the mini-pizza (rather, the Pizza Patty with Pizzazz—pictured immediately above), another product for which my expectations were totally, totally misguided. I don’t know what I’d imagined. Something bad, no doubt. I guess I expected it to be too sweet, too hard, or too busy, flavor-wise, but it just isn’t any of the above. The chocolate itself—sweet, but not absurdly so—is high-quality, and the texture of the popcorn works surprisingly well with the rest of the “pizza.”

To my absolute astonishment, I ended up really loving this thing (as did Sam—I shared, but only begrudgingly). We agreed: More, please. (And I have a feeling we’re going to end up ordering another at some point in the near-ish future—perhaps even a full-sized “pie,” if I can ever manage to get over the shame I’d feel for paying for such an absurd product.)

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Then, there was cakeMicrowavable birthday cake, which comes with everything needed to make it, cookware (and party supplies) included. It takes maybe five minutes to make—well, it took me five minutes, because I didn’t let it cool before icing—and the whole process is ridiculously easy, too. You just add water to the mix, microwave it (in the container it comes in!), “make” the frosting (more water-adding—this time, with an absurdly small and shallow spoon), and then frost the cake. That’s it.

The final product, pictured immediately above, actually isn’t half bad…for a cake that was five minutes ago literally just two types of powder. It’s nothing special (and why should it be?), but it holds its own against your average cake-mix cake, if you ask me. Plus, it takes a fraction of the effort. No pans dirtied—score.

After the cake, I moved on to the fudge bites—they’re nice and fudgy (duh) with super-moist centers—and then it was time for (what I expected to be) the grand finale: the Chippers tasting.

Pictured below are a bunch of teeny-tiny bags of Chippers, each containing a different flavor: salted caramel, lemon, lime, pumpkin, orange, peach-mango, raspberry, blueberry, grape, espresso, peppermint, and pomegranate. (Honestly, if it had been up to me, I never would’ve ordered any sort of fruity bark—but it wasn’t, so fruity bark I ate.)

A bunch of Sensational Sweets Chippers

Now, these…are strange. They’re just fragments of white chocolate peppered with what really, really taste like crushed Dum-Dums (and I wouldn’t be surprised if the candy bits were crushed Dum-Dums, given that Dum-Dums are top 8–free). Some flavors are all right—I particularly liked salted caramel, peach-mango, and blueberry—but plenty suck. (I guess that’s to be expected, though, as I did try every single flavor, including the ones I never, ever would’ve chosen on my own.)

Grape is unmistakably medicinal, and espresso tastes like Dunkin Donuts smells (not a compliment). Lime tastes like Mr. Clean (not sure whether Mr. Clean is nut-free, so the jury’s still out on that one), and peppermint is absurdly artificial, even compared to the other super-artificial flavors. But the chocolate itself is fine—I’m a big fan of white chocolate, which helps—so the fruitless Chippers are definitely tolerable, at the very least. (Salted caramel is my favorite, mostly because it’s the simplest.)

Anyway. I wish I could say I spaced all this chocolate-sampling over the course of a few days, but I didn’t. I ate it all in a single afternoon, then ordered a pizza before sitting down to write this post. The whole thing was genuinely shameful…but overstuffed as I am, I can’t deny that Sensational Sweets makes some damn good chocolate. With the exception of the Chippers, their sweets (well, those that I’ve tried) are indeed sensational, and I strongly recommend them to anyone who’s into (sugar-intensive, but not intolerably sugary) chocolate.

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Ganso Ramen

Traditional-style Miso Ramen from Ganso Ramen

Back in June, I published two Ganso-related posts: one on Ganso Yaki, and one on Sushi Ganso. To my absolute horror, both of those restaurants closed (out of nowhere!) at the beginning of this month…but the news isn’t all bad. One of the Gansos is still open, and I’m finally ready to complete the post-trilogy with a much-awaited (I’m lying) post on Ganso Ramen, the original Ganso that serves—you guessed it—ramen, and plenty of it.

Located near Fulton Mall, somewhere between an IHOP, a Cookie’s, and a Goodwill, Ganso Ramen feels out of place. Inside, it’s dark and intimate; outside, there’s an Applebee’s and, like, eight Burger Kings. (Not really. I think there are two.) Ganso’s doorway is like a portal to another world.

The allergen information in my post on Ganso Yaki applies to Ganso Ramen, too, but I’ll recap, in case you, whoever, are link averse. There are(/were) no tree nuts in the kitchen at any of the Ganso restaurants, and though they aren’t(/weren’t) decidedly nut-free, they don’t(/didn’t) have any nuts on-site. That, combined with the fact that Japanese food is generally pretty low-risk, is enough to make me feel right around 100% comfortable eating at Ganso Ramen (and the other two Gansos, too, when they were still around).

Traditional-style Miso ramen from Ganso Ramen

The first time I went to Ganso (and the second time, and the third), I ordered the Tonkotsu ramen (“rich, creamy twelve-hour pork bone broth and thin, straight noodles, with roasted pork belly chashu, ajitama egg, greens”), Kagoshima-style (i.e. with garlic and soy sauce). I liked it, sure, but it didn’t quite do it for me. I couldn’t put my finger on just what was wrong with it—the noodles weren’t as thick as I would’ve liked, but that couldn’t have been it—but something was, so I abandoned it in favor of the Braised Short Rib (“deep beefy broth, thick Sapporo noodles, Hatcho miso-braised beef short rib, ajitama egg, greens”). Same deal: pleasant, but not The One. Too salty. Not very creamy. Blah.

And then, finally, I found it: the Miso ramen (“savory Shiro miso-chicken broth of Japan’s Far North, thick Sapporo noodles, roasted pork belly, ajitama egg, fresh corn, greens”—pictured twice above). For real, it’s perfect; the noodles are chewy, the miso flavor is strong, but not overwhelming, the scallions (scallions!) are nice and flavorful, and the corn, just short of crunchy, is always sweet. Plus, the dish is made with butter (!!!), which goes a long, long way in creaming up the broth. And, of course, there’s the egg (satisfyingly gooey) and the pork belly (absurdly tender, and a little sweet, too). I’m in love.

Sizzling Gyoza from Ganso Ramen

For a while there, I was doubting Ganso. But when I found this dish, my confidence in the place skyrocketed. I started craving ramen—rain or shine, hot or cold, breakfast or dinner, it was all I wanted. And if my wallet had allowed it, I probably would’ve spent multiple nights per week at Ganso.

So high was my opinion that I even found myself willing to drop $9 on a plate of their Sizzling Gyoza (pictured above). That’s actually the only side I’ve tried at Ganso—I haven’t been that many times, and I’m somewhat of a cheapskate—but honestly, it’s good enough to make me want to try the others. The gyoza, sizzling indeed, are made with pork, garlic, and chives, and though they’re a little boring, they’re served with a chili-soy sauce that helps to liven them up. They aren’t terribly exciting (and they’re definitely a little overpriced), but they’re good nonetheless.

There are plenty of other Ganso dishes I’d like to try: the Ganso Wings, the Japanese-Style Fried Chicken, the Japanese Steamed buns, and maybe even some of the other ramens. But for now, the Miso ramen has me firmly in its clutches—and I’m all right with that, I think.

Find Ganso Ramen at 25 Bond Street, between Fulton and Livingston.

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