A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Mar. 19.

Lunch -

Crif Dogs - 113 St. Mark's Pl., East Village
Crif dog with ketchup, pickles and pineapple; Crif dog with ketchup, relish, lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers, a large red birch beer

Remember that amazing Eddie Murphy song? “Party all the time/ Party all the time/ My girl wants to party all the time/ Party all the time.” That’s what Crif Dogs is to me. The mood is nonstop fun and uniqueness. Maybe that has a little to do with the hot dog sculpture hanging outside the place that reads "Eat Me" in mustard-yellow lettering. The flippant frequently changing sign imploring people to get their butts inside probably helps too. There’s the working Pac-Man arcade game that doubles as a table. The Homies toys still in their original packaging hanging on the wall. The action figures of Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein dangling from nooses by the soda machine. Their logo of a pixie punk blonde girl hugging a giant hot dog. I could go on and on.

When I came in for lunch, everyone’s favorite cult classic, Office Space, was playing on the two TV sets. People were laughing and biting into elaborate dogs. The Kevin McDonald-lookalike behind the counter was white-guy-dancing to the soundtrack. Even at two p.m., the Eddie Murphy truism was proving true.

I ordered a birch beer and two hot dogs. The nice thing about Crif Dogs is, in addition to their signature dogs, most of which come either wrapped in bacon or topped with cheese, they have a laundry list of items to customize your own top dog. Since the idea of the Spicy Redneck (chili, cole slaw, jalapeños, bacon-wrapped) and the Good Morning (melted cheese, fried egg, bacon-wrapped) don’t appeal to me, I’ve made up my own special dogs. Next time you’re there, let ‘em know you want to see them earn a place on the full-time menu.

The first creation came in a flash of inspiration one tipsy night and I’ve never looked back. I call it the Sweet and Sour and it features ketchup, pickles and pineapple. It’s wacky enough to always get a comment from the cashier, but good enough to warrant it. The pineapple chunks and long pickle slices make a surprisingly good combo, fittingly offbeat for an offbeat place. My second invention, the Salad Dog, isn’t as novel but it’s still a frequent in my repertoire. It comes topped with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, ketchup and relish. At my most optimistic, I figure it’s a good way of eating my veggies.

Aside from the fun atmosphere and the multitude of options, Crif Dogs also makes pretty good food. They toast their inside of the buns, giving them a soft crunch. They have a veggie dog available and their pork-beef blend dogs are better than many. My first dog was too salty and a little dry which sometimes happens but my second was just right. The vegetables are also fresh. And of course, when you’re done eating, there’s always the Jesus and Moses action figures to keep the party going. 6/10

Lunch -

Sal's Pizza and Restaurant - 110 Ave. A, East Village
A plain slice of pizza

I think of Sal’s and Nino’s (see Mar. 5) as twins separated at birth. Both have the same crispy crust, the same multifaceted mozzarella, the same tangy tomato sauce, the same convenient walk-up service. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that they’re owned by the same person, but so far, haven’t found any evidence to support the theory. My decision on which pizzeria to hit thus comes down to the arbitrary: whether I’m walking north or south. Or sometimes, I’ll give the nod to Sal’s because it’s one street further away from my apartment and I feel like a better foodie for making that trek. Either way though, the pizza’s quality and, for two bucks, a worthy counterexample for people bemoaning the dearth of good neighborhood pizzerias in New York. 8/10


Dim Sum Go Go - 5 E. Broadway, Chinatown
Shrimp and mango rolls, crab meat dumplings, shrimp dumplings, mushroom dumplings, a can of Coke

I suppose I avoided Dim Sum Go Go for so long because of its mildly stupid name (is it a dumpling strip club?) and its willingness to sell a wide scope of dim sum at all hours. Now I’m no purist, but there’s just something beautiful about cart service, pointing bravely at some mysterious dough, struggling to catch the quick mumbled explanations of the women maneuvering the carts, being squashed at banquet tables with strangers. But since it was almost eight when I had my dumpling craving and cart service was long out of service, I decided to listen to the good things I’d heard about Dim Sum Go Go and check it out for myself.

Situated at the start of East Broadway, by the Confucius statue on Chatham Square, Dim Sum Go Go was quite busy when I went on Saturday night. The bottom floor was full so they sent me upstairs where another large room awaited. The menu seemed as unique as many in Chinatown’s depths, but it didn’t matter to me at the moment. The name of the place wasn’t Quails on a Bed of Baby Bok Choy Go Go. I was here for the dim sum, and so I promptly ordered crab, shrimp and mushroom dumplings. Just for good measure, I also got fried rolls filled with shrimp and mango.

The three rolls were deeply fried, their shells oily and crispy. More than anything, they tasted like the coating of fish sticks. But heated up and fresh from the kitchen, filled with long slices of sweet mango and pieces of shrimp, they didn’t have trouble outdoing Gorton’s. I’m not sure I’d get them again, but for what they were, the rolls were enjoyable.

Soon thereafter, one of the two waiters serving me brought my first two sets of dumplings, the crab and the shrimp, in bamboo steamers. Alternating between the two choices, I was very pleased with both. Their dough was light, thin and tasty, and the shrimp’s speckled lime covering was a striking though simple touch. The dough was also nice because it put proper emphasis on the fillings. Especially for the wonderful crab, that I seriously contemplated ordering more of it, this was the right call.

For the mushroom dumplings, I had to wait and wait. I gave the kitchen more time than I normally would before asking, because I thought the quite large (and annoying) birthday party also occupying the room was preoccupying their attention. Finally, when the wait stretched beyond extended, I flagged down one of the always-near waiters to ask. “Mushroom?” he repeated tentatively. It turned out that he’d forgotten to put in the order.

While the mushroom dumplings were pretty good, I’m not sure if they were worth the wait. Dim Sum has more intriguing vegetarian options that I considered exploring, such as bamboo heart, abbot's delight or snow pea leaf. Or better yet, order a sampler of all ten of their meat and seafood options (including duck and shark’s fin), a sampler of all ten of their vegetarian options or both. From the pictures I’ve seen of these samplers, the different dumplings come with different colored or speckled doughs, making for a handsome platter. Sure it’s not something you would get in a “real” dim sim joint, and sure the purists might balk, but Dim Sum Go Go, stupid name and all, is just as worthy a contender.


Anonymous simon said...

Oh man nice post! $8 for a dog and beer? I got to get down to st marks. Haven't been in that area for a long time.

LOL I noticed you posted at 3AM. Must have been a fun night!

9:46 PM  
Blogger reyt said...

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2:31 AM  

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