Ragtime and Stinky Tofu

Saturday started out like any other except my wife was already out of the house when Zoey started to stir at 9am. The morning was slow and none of the places I wanted to go to were open until noon. I ate a small breakfast of leftover pizza and drove downtown to withdraw some money and pick up Ragtime by Doctorow.
Zoey and I went to the library bookstore where I paid for the first print hard cover edition of Ragtime. The price was $1. Zoey did her usual rounds and created a ruckus as I carried her out the doors and hour later. She had become obsessed with a sesame street counting game and didn’t want to leave Big Bird behind.
The first stop on my list of places to eat was Pho on the Block, a Vietnamese place with really great Bao and Bahn Mi sandwiches. My wife had been there the day before and said the food wasn’t as good as she remembered. I decided to check it out for myself and see. The décor was the same with an old moped hanging on the wall and community style tables in the middle of the serving area. The menu was almost exactly how I remembered it. Instead of beef Bao it was labeled as sirloin.
I ordered one of each of the four Bao they had available and waited. The man at the counter was middle eastern and there was a communication barrier we were finally able to break while I was ordering. A man sat at the counter window seats and had been there since I walked in. heavy set and long dark hair, he reminded me of a young Jonathan Gold on a quest for some good Pho. Zoey sat beside me as we drank water, she sipped from the glass and bit the rim still learning how to use a cup. After ten minutes an order came out from the kitchen where a middle eastern woman was preparing the food by herself.
I remember when Pho on the Block first opened, the staff was black and white, male and female. There were three to four people in the kitchen and a manager that lingered in the corner on her laptop. The wait time were short and the food impeccable.
I wasn’t sure what my wife had ordered the day before and ten minutes later, when my wait was finally over, the Bao appeared and I noticed how much things had changed. The tofu, the best item on the Bao menu, didn’t appear to have any roasted coconut on it. The sirloin was piled so high you could barely see the white bun. The lemongrass chicken was blackened and barely visible under the mountain of carrots thrown on top. The pork belly was the only time that resembled what I had eaten before. Everything was covered in insane amounts of sauce.

While trying to pick up the sirloin bao everything fell out and the few bites I was able to eat ended up being some of the best from the that meal, spicy, sweet, and fatty the combination hit the spot. The chicken was dry and lacked any flavor of lemongrass. The pork belly hadn’t changed much I’m happy to say, but the tofu, why on god’s green earth anyone would change the recipe on that I will never understand. The fried cake was spongy and lacked any type of flavor other than the oil it was cooked in. the coconut that was on the namesake was missing and therefore the point of ordering such a meal. What I had saved for last as the grand finale was a huge disappointment. I want my bao back.
Zoey enjoyed some of the sirloin and pork belly, but like me she was not a fan of the tofu. Afterwards I considered going to Nonla burger to pick up a Rubin burger they advertised on their Instagram account but I was too full and decided to head to Tiffany’s instead. The idea was to pick up some desert for later and enjoy it at home. I had known Tiffany’s for their baclava and other middle eastern treats. When I walked inside, I found a large cooler filled with cheese and aged meats. At the deli there were containers of salads of all types and flavors. Baclava was not to be seen. Zoey went crazy at the low-lying cooler filled with cheese. She wanted to pick up and throw everything regardless of style. I was able to find a few cheeses to try later but when the screaming started it was time to go. I quickly paid for the cheese and went out the door.
The adventure was over, or so I thought. Later that evening my wife was hungry and I wanted something besides the bad tofu in my belly. Sarah had an idea and what she had suggested I didn’t expect.
“I really want some Zooroona,” She said referring to a middle eastern restaurant next door to Tiffany’s. We had not been there in maybe two years.
Nothing had changed inside; the furniture and décor were the same and the smells from the kitchen told you this was the right place to be. We were taken to a booth and looked over the menu. I wanted something that I had never ordered before. I spotted the kebabs and knew at some point I had eaten those in the past. Vegetarian dishes would not have held me over so I skipped them. I spotted the marinated lamb in hummus and ordered the dish.
The lentil soup that was brought out first left me wanting more with the citric aroma, bitter flavor and sweet undertones balancing out the dish.
Zoey snacked on hummus and a few minutes later our meals arrived. Sarah picked one of the vegetarian meals, a mix of rice and curry with a garlic sauce on the side. Our meals went down fast and Zoey swatted away any offers from our plates more interested in her Sesame Street books than the food in front of her. The lamb was in bite size chunks and didn’t have the pieces of bone that I had found at other places. The Hummus was creamy and for superior to anything one might pick up at the local supermarket.
I had been hunting something new, something to expand my pallet outside of the street tacos and processed food that keeps the world moving. The meals of mystery meat and bleached white flour settle on the belly and leave your system forgetting that there is food out in the world to enjoy and not just subsist on. If we could have this kind of food everyday the world might be a better place.

I finished the meal with a 2 oz glass of Ouzo and let the liquorice flavor settle into my stomach. I had seen this drink on several traveling shows but it is hard to find on menus saturated with too many wines and the same beers that everyone else offers. I didn’t expect to see an old fashion on the menu and gravitated towards something that I knew I would not experience elsewhere. Ouzo was my desert.
We left Zooroona and for the next day I didn’t feel the need to eat. My cravings had been satisfied and for the first time in months I didn’t feel the need to snack later. This might be the difference between real food and the garbage we feed ourselves day after day.


Baba Turk and the blue wedding

I have been reading Edward Lee’s book Buttermilk Graffiti and it reminded me of the adventure of food blogging that I had abandoned so many years ago. Beer and Loafing is still up and the articles still apply to today with the exception of a few places that have closed. Reading Lee’s book reminded me of the things to look for while out in the world. I wasn’t planning on a adventure today, taking care of a two year old makes the though of going anywhere nerve racking.
I cleaned at one of the local breweries this morning, part of a clean to drink program that was designed to keep the bartenders happy and prevent the customers from shit talking about the bathrooms. After a few years the program has proven to be a success and at the moment I have more beers saved up than I could drink in a year.
The downstairs bar is the recent casualty of a downsizing in the brewery. Designed like a speakeasy from the 1920s the lower bar now sits dormant except for the Friday night dinners specially designed for mug club members. Barrels stand as tables and the walls are covered in artwork featuring the previous tenants and pre prohibition brewing history. Once I finished mopping the floors I took my daughter for a walk on the downtown mall.
Zoey is tiny for a two year old. She is often mistaken for a baby that has just learned to walk and receives a lot of attention when out in public. Her hair is short for her age and can only wear it in a pony tail on top of her head making her look like one of the characters from a Dr. Sous story. We make our way to the library, me following her as she already know the way from two blocks down the street. As we come closer to the doors she speeds up and races through the sliding doors, down the hall, and into the kids room that she knows so well. She plays with the computers, keyboard, and the doll house in the playroom, rotating through them in a certain order that only makes sense to her. When I try to leave she runs to the refective image of the elevator doors and walks in when the doors open. We head downstairs.
Zoey doesn’t have a left or right option in her thinking, as soon as the doors open she moves straight into the bookstore and disappears. While she wanders through the shelves I find a first print hardcover copy of Ragtime by Doctorow and place a hold on it. The dustcover is still in great condition and the price is a dollar, I can’t pass it up. In the minute it took to talk to the cashier Zoey had cruised through the doors behind me and into the audio video section of the library. She came to the understanding months ago that because she is cute she pretty much owns the place while she is there. I look through the store and head out into the lobby to find a security guard talking to her and librarian looking for her parent. It wasn’t my best moment. Score for today, Zoey 1, dad 0.
Eventually we leave and Zoey isn’t too happy that big bird was still on the computer when I picked her up and carried her out after her third round of counting with big bird. The food truck rally was taking place at the park across the street and I had a few dollars to try something new. My entertainment has been a food kick lately of The Chef Show by Jon Favreau and Edward Lee’s book. I noticed a few trucks I had not seen before and a few that I had not been to yet. We cruise along the sidewalk reading the menus. Most items do not exceed $10 and from the portion sizes it’s a meal that will fill you up. Gorilla Gourmet stands out with their well known truck featuring the black image of a gorilla on a white background. There is the smoked meat truck that looks like a log cabin. Most of these places offer some form or taco, a term that has been bastardized but most likely for the better. I spot beef brisket and pulled pork, common American staples these days. Falafel is the main dish at one middle eastern truck. I decide on Baba Turk with their Turkish taco meal. I have had several versions of traditional Mexican tacos and have enjoyed most more than the American counterparts. Wanting to get away from the tomato, cheese, and lettuce that have ruined most people’s idea of a perfect taco I wait to see what this new form of fusion has to offer. The chicken meat is cooked on a spinning wheel and sliced off into small bits perfect for a white soft taco shell. The meat is then cooked in lamb fat for added flavor. A sour cream sauce is added along with tomatoes and onion. The small cardboard dish is filled to the top and I find a place in the shade where I give portions of the meal to my daughter as she watches the other kids play. Somewhere along the way Zoey had found a large piece of lettuce that had fallen off of someone else’s plate and immediately put it in her mouth. Current score, Zoey 2, dad 0.
There were a few hundred people at the park. I could imagine this was what places with food stalls would have looked like a hundred years ago in other cities when it was lunch time. After I finished the meal Zoey took me on a walk through the park and she gravitated towards a wedding party that was having photos done in the hot sun. most of the party was hiding under the large oak and maple trees waiting for their turn with the happy couple. I could tell Zoey was wanting to do one of her already famous photo bombs but I was able to nudge her away from the group. Current score, Zoey 2, dad 1.
As we went past the wedding party I spotted a young man smoking a cigar. It wasn’t a smell I recognized and the cigar itself didn’t look like the rolled quality that I had seen on my own cigar adventures earlier this year. The only credit I give to the man’s cigar is that it didn’t have the infamous smell of dog turds that some cigars are known for. The brides dress was spread out across the grass and the party was a collage of backgrounds I have known this city for. The bride was of Hispanic background. Out of the groom’s men I couldn’t spot the groom of the six men who were standing around in their blue tuxedoes. The party was black, white, middle eastern, Hispanic, and a few other ethnic groups I couldn’t place. Maybe this was the answer to the world’s problems? Maybe not. Only time will tell.
I try to aim us toward the parking lot where our car waited for us but to Zoey’s credit she took us on the scenic route through the mall and around the block until we finally made it to the lot. Then she kept walking. With the sun beating down on us and no shade in sight I picked her up and put her in the car. NPR was playing more coverage of the current presidential debate and I zoned out as the talking heads discussed the winners and losers of the day. Zoey’s name never came up. It was a long afternoon and I wondered if Zoey would ever have a craving for chicken meat cooked in lamb fat. Upon pulling into the driveway Zoey demanded another walk and once we finally entered the house she asked for a bottle and looked at the bills waiting for me on the table. Final score, Zoey 3, dad 1.