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Marvelous Mortadella Monster

I wandered into Bottega Falai (267 Lafayette St) totally clueless. I was hungry, it was lunchtime and they have that minimalist all-white design with all items in tiny-bottles that just screams ‘European’, and my was I hungry for some European food. I looked around and didn’t see much of anything beyond the anemic little panninis in the cooler. Then I saw a cut-out of Ed Levine’s review of their Mortadella panini ($8) and realized I’d dun good. It turns out they actually do have a ‘sandwich menu’ on the back wall, in mostly illegibly various fonts, there are some options for sandwiches (meat n veg). For a fancy European coffee shop in soho, $8 for a sandwich ain’t bad at all.

The sandwich was wonderful. First of all, unlike their brethren across the pond, this sandwich was huge. Not American-obscene-huge, but European-huge. The focaccia was soft and fluffy and oil. The Mortadella was salty, wonderfully thinly sliced and *bountiful*. The mozzarella was actually flavorful and not the cold slug you often get. The tomatoes were pretty bland, oh well, three out of four ain’t too bad.

Simple enough to make, but wonderfully tasty ingredients

It’s a quarter loaf!

See, no short changing on the Mortadella

City Sub is Simple, Sublime

City Sub (450 Bergen S, Brooklyn, no website, menu here) is so simple and unassuming you almost ignore it. Almost. It’s open mostly for lunch starting at 11am and closes whenever they run out of bread. The whole place is basically a refrigerator for meats and cheese, a few toaster ovens, and a counter for prep. Every time I’ve been, the line is nearly out the door and everyone is standing in silence watching the sandwiches get made. The menu is available in a little brochure as usual, but it’s also plastered on the back wall, each item numbered from 1 to 30 or so.

It is all rather unassuming, which is certainly part of the charm, you don’t expect the crunchy-on-the-outside-and-chewy-on-the-inside bread to be that good. You don’t expect the toppings to be that fresh, even though you just saw them added. It all comes together like a wonderful crescendo. Plus, it’s cheap!

I’m not going to bother going through each sandwich I’ve had there, they’ve all been fantastic.

Simple turkey with swiss

20. Capocollo, Prosciuttini, Pepper Jack Cheese* ($6.99)

Up close and personal

Torrisi: italian sandwiches from heaven

Like many restaurants, Torrisi (250 Mulberry Street, at Prince) serves a limited menu at lunch. Unless most, that menu is almost entirely sandwiches! They have a few antipasti dishes, but the focus is really on their 4 sandwiches: roasted turkey, chicken parm, Italian and a potato, egg, & provolone. I sampled the first three and was blown away: these are some incredible sandwiches.

First up, the roasted turkey ($11). The ingredients are fairly traditional, turkey, lettuce, tomato, onions and some herb mayo. It was warm and fresh and incredibly moist. The roll was wonderful too, soft and fluffy without being chewy or too forgiving.

Second, the Italian, $10. This one is straight by the book too: chopped veggies, cold cuts (salami, cappicola, salami cotto) and cheese (mordatela and provolone), only instead of piling them all so high it turns into a salt-lick, Torrisi gives you just enough to taste without overpowering anything. It’s a dignified Italian hero, perfectly balanced.

Finally, the chicken parm, also $10. The same light sesame roll as on the other two, but topped with pan-fried, breaded chicken and melted mozzarella. Often when you get a chicken parm, the chicken is tough, rubbery and chewy. Yuck. Torrisi somehow managed to keep the chicken incredibly moist, tender and absolutely delightful. This one was the favorite of the group, though only because it’s got crispy chicken and melted cheese.

When in soho, Torrisi.

All three are stellar:

Double Eagle, Cost and Taste

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse (1221 6th ave, at 49th St., New York, NY) is where bankers and media moguls go for business lunches and where they take their clients for dinner. The menu is headlined by $50 steaks, lobsters and expensive wine. I was there for the burger. They just began selling it a few weeks ago and supposedly it’s some top-secret blend of magic cow parts.

When the waiter mentioned it, I had to try it, despite the totally outrageous price of $21. I’ll complain about the price more later, but first, let’s talk about hamburgers. The most important ingredient of hamburgers is the meat, no question. Sure the bun is critical and all, but without the meat you’re really eating a lettuce and tomato sandwich. What better place to order a fancy-meatburger than at a steakhouse, right? This was how I talked myself into spending $21 for a hamburger, or as they call it a “prime cheeseburger.” It comes with a gigantic side of fries, a few fried onions on top, cheese of your choice and the usually burger-toppin’ veggies. As you will see from the pictures below, the burger is gigantic too. I was afraid I’d be humiliated in front of all the suits, but thank god, the bun and toppings compress down nicely and it can be eaten as a normal burger (for me at least, you millage may vary).

All kvetching aside, the hamburger was fantastic. What their secret meat-blend does is make the burger kind of mushy, but keeps the flavor up. It’s a strange first few bites where you expect it to be a bit chewy, and then it just gives way. (I think we can all agree there’s something singularly revolting about overcooked hamburgers that turn grey and you have to chew and chew and chew). Bite after bite, it just gives way, like it’s totally happy to be eaten. The flavor was fantastic, the bun held up wonderfully, absorbing all the juices that flowed.

It’s a fantastic hamburger, if you can tolerate the business crowd.

Fries anyone?

It’s huge.

Keep Meatball Shopping

At The Meatball Shop (84 Stanton St. at Allen, NY, NY) you can get meatballs any way you like: on a salad, on top of Spaghetti, in a sandwich or just plain “naked balls” (I’m ready for the search traffic to be disappointed). I love places that are this focused, “do one thing and do it well”, that’s what I always say.

They have all different kinds of meatballs (veggie, pork, beef, etc.) and even have rotating daily specials. I tried the spicy pork, on a hero with tomato sauce and provolone cheese for $9. I had really high expectations, after all, with this kind of focus there is no excuse for blandness. The sandwich came out and there were a few things wrong. First, the meatballs are mushy. Tasty enough, but mushy. Every tasty meatball I’ve ever made was fried in oil until crispy. Crispy meatballs are delicious, the crusties keep the texture interesting and away from meatloaf. Apparently, after much research, some people bake them which leaves them mushy. How did they manage to dedicate a whole shop to them and forget to make them crispy? Second, there is hardly any cheese on these (see below)! Why bother letting people order cheese if you’re only going to sprinkle it on? Thirdly, these pork meatballs aren’t spicy at all. Oh, come on!
(Finally, how can they devote a third of their webpage to themselves. You’re very pretty, now get back in the kitchen and give me some damn cheese.)

After a whole hero I was pretty sickly full. I managed to cram down a half an ice cream sandwich ($4), which was pretty delicious. You pick each of the cookie sides and the filling and it comes out pretty much as you’d expect. The cookies were soft and delicious and the ice cream, was, well, ice creamy.

Skip the meatballs and just get a few ice cream sandwiches.

Uninspired Meatball Performance

Meatballs on Hero

3 balls per Hero

Brownie, chocolate chip and espresso filling.


Five Guys is Greasy Good

I usually shy away from chain joints, but everyone gets kind of giddy when they mention Five Guys (locations everywhere, FG6, 36 West 48th Street). They always flash a “should we split a Toblerone? OMG, should we do it?” glance if you even entertain their suggestion. It’s almost a dare, not quite, but almost. Anyhow, I figured I’d encourage the risk taking, and off we were.

I’m not sure if all Five Guys’ are like this, but the one I went to was an insane assembly line operation that looked something like this: register, deep fryers, grills, salting station, burger assembly, pickup. I ordered and before I could even walk to the other end, I saw my receipt pop up at the assembly station and get prepped. Damn, that’s operational excellence.

Five Guys trumpets the fact that they use peanut oil to fry their fries, as if that makes a difference. They have specialty branded bags of potatoes by the door, all dressed up in white and red corporate. I guess all this helps alleviate the guilt people have when they indulge. Which all seems kind of silly, because the fries are pretty damn good. The burger you ask, the burger! It was good too. One of the other things with five guys is that everyone gets two patties, all the toppings you want, and a huge serving of fries. Yeah, that’s why everyone looks sheepish to mention it, you get calories for the week.

I went a little overboard on the free toppings, stopping just green peppers short of ‘everything’ (they have a cute name for it, but I forget). The cheeseburger I got was an insane monstrosity (look below!). It fell apart while I was eating it. It was also pretty tasty. Totally greasy and a little disgusting, but pretty damn tasty. The jalapenos and swiss I got on mine made it pretty spicy and meaty, just like I love.

Just like they talk up their ‘fresh’ fries, they also talk up their fresh burgers. Sure, you can see them grill the burgers right behind the assembly line, so in that sense they’re fresh. But they still look and mostly taste like regular TGIF-applebees-chillis beef patties. Maybe a smidgen better (or is that how good their marketing is?).

Sure I’d go back eventually, but next time I’d sheepishly test my meal-mates to see if they’re ready for the coma and general kind of nasty feeling you’re left with.

Average ingredients, average strategy: not bad, not great

Presented in dreamy five-guys-o-vision