A raspberry lamington, those bloody poofy woolly biscuits
I hate to leave you but I really must say…
Sunset over Mana.
Goodnight, sweetheart, goodnight.
A raspberry lamington, those bloody poofy woolly biscuits
I hate to leave you but I really must say…
Sunset over Mana.
Goodnight, sweetheart, goodnight.
When crossing the street we each of us will think we have this time finally figured out which way to look, confidently look left and then almost get hit by oncoming traffic. Literally dozens and dozens of time now. Our solution is to look straight ahead and shout “AMERICAN!” It all started when our friend here — who is American by birth but has been driving in New Zealand long enough to know better — suddenly and absentmindedly pulled out into oncoming traffic. Unable to articulate what was happening, Mike cried out “AMERICAN!”
It should come as no surprise that New Zealand has Denny’s restaurants, the great American middle ground for old people and teenage hooligans. But it does anyway. Because honestly, of all the things that deserve to be recreated elsewhere? Not Denny’s. Which is why when Marika asked what we wanted to do on our last day, Denny’s actually came up¹. Won’t that be hilarious!? Denny’s? Um.
As a matter of fact, yes. Because what says Denny’s like… nasi goreng? My, that egg looks natural. Well shit, now we have to order it. Marika asked for it to include “spicy chicken” (because there was spicy chicken in other dishes on the menu) and the server just sort of stared blankly.
However, what came out was basically nasi goreng with about fourteen cups of Tabasco sauce in it, ominously telling her as he set it down, “I don’t know how spicy it is, but it should be pretty hot, yeah!” The all-too familiar waft of Tabasco vinegar gas-bombed our table, taking my breath away. That fucker was spicy.
I briefly considered having the shrimp cocktail because boy, doesn’t that look delicious. Is that… nacho cheese?
And then it caught my eye: satay roll. Satay chicken on a hoagie? Oh, Toto. We’re not in Malaysia anymore. Or America.
Oh-ho! Oh man. Okay. What? Um. I mean, I like puke as much as the next person, but that seems a little off. And now do you want to hear the crazy part? It was pretty tasty. I mean, it was a surprisingly good satay sauce, really sticky and peanutty, and the chicken hidden inside there was cooked well. Overall, it was a surprisingly good lunch. I was far too full to eat any of my fries (which is good, because they sucked) and I’m pretty sure I’ll be attempting a satay hoagie at home.
I do regret not ordering the “Fresh & Fruity Frost,” because: what is that? Is that shredded wheat? Chicken? Now we’ll never know.
¹ To be fair, wind and a sick cat² derailed any other plans we had.
² Not together.
Since our time here in NZ is drawing to a close, we thought it best if we cut the crap and had some damn high tea already. Our pal Marika heartily suggested the Hippopotamus, a restaurant inside the delightfully quirky Museum Hotel in downtown Wellington (which, while I can’t vouch for prices, certainly had a great lobby).
I watched as a teenage girl at another table pulled a award-winning bershon and flicked the quenelle of paté from the top of her savory, like this one, as though it were cat food
High tea is awash with contradictions, misunderstandings and social commentaries, which makes is best just to sort of ignore whatever history1 accompanies it and run with pretending we are all little girls at invisible tea parties (hmm, that’s the second time this week I’ve mentioned invisible tea…).
I lost count of how many cups of Ceylon tea I drank, but it was more than four and less than six.
I’d also sort of terrified Marika previously by, at home, brewing my cups of tea until they were the density of espresso. I’d forgotten until we were served our first cups at Hippopotamus that proper English tea is pale and served with milk so as to keep from overpowering the delicate qualities, but to my surprise it was just as delightful as the ungodly rocketfuel tea I make.
I was a hair sad to see the savories limited to three smears of something on tiny toasts and only one miniature tea sandwich, but it’s the kind of sadness that comes with three cascading levels of high-fat pastry, which is to say: fleeting.
I’ve also gained an appreciation for friands, which are hugely popular in New Zealand. In the photo above, they are the little cakes dusted with powdered sugar. Almost every cafe sells them here, each version a slight variation on another, some better than others but all of them pretty great with tea or coffee. Traditionally, friands are actually financiers, or light brown-butter sponge cakes made with almond meal. When made correctly they are crispy on the outside – almost as though fried – and spongy and nutty on the inside. They are, in a way, a kind of hearty madeleine, made heartier by the New Zealand predilection for amping them up with fruit and tropical flavors.
Afterwards, sloshy with tea, we walked along the waterfront to try and encourage digestion. Still, when I saw a soft-serve ice cream truck that served affogato, I had to be dragged away, for my own safety.
1Basically, high tea was initially a meal of the starving lower classes who would eat the scraps of their lunches with tea late in the evening after hard labor. Later, this was called high tea literally because it was eaten at a higher table than a classic “low tea” where everyone sat around holding their cups and saucers in their laps. Later still it became a derogatory term for froofy upperclass snacktime (say “high tea!” to yourself in your best old British aristocracy voice and you get the idea) and has now become, in America and New Zealand at least, a beloved pastime of eating tiers of snacks while drinking bottomless tea at hotel restaurants. The British apparently still call this “afternoon tea.” I could ask the British man sitting downstairs from me as I write this, but I’m too lazy to walk down there.
I suppose its time to share the background behind the name ‘Anger Burger’ — though, at this point, it has gained multiple meanings. Originally, anger-burger was an attempt to describe a peculiar reaction I had to very good food, a sort of contradictory food rage borne from confusion over how something could be so delicious1. Since then there have been few moments of real anger-burger, though they still happen.
New Zealand’s premiere burger fast food chain, Burger Wisconsin, did not inspire anger-burger. Mike was prepped for what I had previously described as NZ’s despicable burger habits, including a burger (not from Burger Wisconsin) I attempted to eat that had been heavily spiced with Italian seasoning; I thought I must have ordered wrong, but other diners assured me that the chain was known for their seasoned burgers. And unless that burger is topped with marinara and mozzarella, Italian seasoning has no goddamn business being there.
However, Burger Wisconsin had me intrigued. Their menu has a decidedly gourmet slant to it — an inconclusive omen (I’d rank Dick’s in Seattle and In-n-Out amongst my favorite burgers in the world, both of which are under $3) as I’m not opposed to fancy tastes, but I don’t like paying a lot for them in a hamburger. I mean, it’s a burger. Anyway, I’m glad I ate before reading the rather hilarious About page on their website, which reads as though french fries are health food and takeaway packaging is helping close the hole in the ozone.
Enough of that, how is the burger? In a word: mediocre. The bun was unremarkable, if a bit tough, and certainly didn’t taste like the sourdough they bragged about. The “salad,” a.k.a. lettuce and tomato, were redleaf, a green I actually find to be a step below iceberg on a burger. My reasoning is that iceberg at least provides crunch and tends to stand up to the heat of the burger for longer than a few seconds, whereas a lettuce like redleaf was too delicate and too flavorless to be anything but a filler. The beef itself was the most surprisingly disappointing — New Zealand produces superior livestock of all breeds, and to find a spongy, characterless beef patty seemed an anachronism. In fact, if Burger Wisconsin weren’t constantly shrieking about it’s PURE ANGUS NEW ZEALAND BEEF! then I’d be certain there were fillers in it. The fact that it seemed like there were and there weren’t is especially insulting.
And now you’re asking – what the fuck is that bright red shit in your burger, Sunday? Well, I’ll tell you, but its another sad story. See, in New Zealand, they love putting slices of cooked beet on their burgers. I swear it! And that’s what I wanted, a proper New Zealand burger. And guess who motherfucking doesn’t offer beet slices? That’s right: Burger Wisconsin. After all of that, I can’t even get a proper Kiwi burger. Instead I had to suffer the indignity of paying an additional $1 for beetroot relish as well as, I decided at the last minute, garlic mayonnaise. And you know what? It tasted pretty good, altogether. All it was missing was a better quality beef patty and a softer bun. And different lettuce.
I ordered my usual side of kumara (sweet potato) chips, and I’m going to miss these desperately when I’m back in the States. I can normally forgo french fries, but the complex sweet/salty thing of the kumara are unbeatable — and more importantly, available everywhere.
Overall, it was a better experience than the burgers I ate in New Zealand five years ago, but these guys are a few decades away from catching up with the the big boys.
1For example, several years ago at the Dahlia Lounge in Seattle there was a raw scallop and yuzu dish from the Sea Bar that was transcendental – I don’t know what happened exactly, but for a moment it was like I had reached a point of meditation in which I was reduced to a single taste-sensing organ and was thus overwhelmed with emotion. My only expression was one of, apparently, rage, though it was far from how I felt. Turns out that experiencing all emotions at the same time = angry.
My friend Marika can’t chew chewing gum, and not for dental reasons. It gives her an anxiety attack. She is preoccupied with a feeling of having no where to put it after she’s begun chewing, despite having access to small pieces of paper and the ever-present option of hucking it into a ditch. It’s quite the post-modern dilemma.
I have no such compulsions, and enjoy chewing gum. I regularly1 chewed Altoid’s cinnamon gum when I worked at a bookstore because of the metronomic quality and because my breath often reeked from eating peanut butter and onion sandwiches for lunch2. I also find that the somewhat frenetic act of chewing increases my energy, which is bizarre and welcomed. My all-time preferred chewing gum is easily Black Black, the painfully minted caffeinated gum favorite of nerds everywhere (no one seems to know how much caffeine is actually in a piece of Black Black — sometimes I think I can feel it, other times I can’t), but any minty gum will do in a pinch. Intrigued by the ambiguous nature of this “P.K” gum from Wrigley’s, I bought a pack without even noticing that it claims to contain “10 pellets”. Pellets? Is that the best word for a food product? Turns out that “P.K” stands for Phillip K. Wrigley himself, founder of Wrigley’s gum, and the eponymous flavor is simply peppermint.
Luckily I bought the stuff, though, because this delightful thing you see before you was full of raw chopped garlic, onion marmalade and god knows what other scrumptious pungencies. Billed as a “lamb burger” and in the face of real hesitation from Mike and I, Marika strongly recommended our ordering it, and she was right to do so. Despite the fact that calling it a “burger” makes for a lot of unfulfilled expectations, the resulting meal was as near perfect as one can be. A “naan” (more like a tortilla) was slathered in butter, chopped raw garlic and fresh parsley and then wrapped around wild greens (including a fair amount of cilantro and arugula), a large patty of ground lamb, two grilled slabs of eggplant, tomatoes, and lots of sweet onion relish. It was a bear to eat – or rather, to get into the mouth — but was so well-balanced and fresh-tasting that we happily crammed it in anyway.
I suspect the lamb was seasoned heavily, because though my initial appraisal of the dish was “Well, that looks bland,” it was deceptively powerful. An all around kudos to the Long Orange cafe of Whitby (30 km north of Wellington). Just, maybe call it a “lamb wrap” or something, okay? Or not, you seem to know what you’re doing.
1 Until my boss saw me and demanded that I spit it out, which made me more infuriated than any other service-industry injustice so far. I don’t know why, but I find it utterly offensive that my discretely chewing a small piece of minty gum is considered crass, meanwhile the breakroom fridge smelled so bad that people literally gagged when they opened it.
2 Don’t knock it till you try it.
I feel obligated to share in fairness that I have gained a noticeable amount of weight the month I’ve been here in New Zealand. For every meatpie I’ve eaten, there have been half a dozen cookies1 to wash it down with. On the other hand, because I have been eating such high-fat, low-fiber food, my Crohn’s has been bothering me less. It’s a terrible Catch-22.
Still, it’s not such a bad place to be. Nothing teaches the humility of the body like public diarrhea, and being a little round around the corners is nothing, brother, and I mean nothing in comparison. One might psychoanalyze my ability to take such comfort in eating, but I find it a simple, visceral act; few things offer such tremendous reward for so little effort.
Still, you can take the New Zealander out of the Commonwealth, but you can’t take the Commonwealth out of the New Zealander, and the proliferation of Mr. Whippy trucks is as good a demonstration of New Zealand’s relationship with food as any. Honestly, if it doesn’t have chocolate or french fries with it, what’s the point of eating it?
Indeed, what. Here we have a Mr. Whippy “Sherbet Cone,” which is in reality a regular vanilla cone rolled in a splat of “sherbet” powder. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting and was nevertheless delightful and fulfilling in a way I hadn’t known I needed.
One of my favorite cafes in Wellington is the unexpected Clarke’s, located inside the Library. Their treats are pretty consistently good (such as the above sugar cookie called, I believe, a “high five”) and their coffee was some of the best I’ve yet had here.
Even as I write this I experience a kind of background doubt, like, am I overselling my casual feelings towards eating badly? Because I do actually think, man, how many calories does this have in it? on occasion, if rarely. I do look down at a remaining portion of something unhealthy and catch myself going to eat more after I’m already full and then internally scolding, now, Sunday, do you really need that? But part of me feels it’s this game of prudence, like pretending to be a grown-up and “How do you do?” while wearing a flowered hat and serving a teddybear invisible tea. Oh now, goodness me, I shant eat another bite.
But you see, I shall. And I love it.
1 I am not screwing around: these cookies are going to ruin your life. Do not order them. Yes, they’re not even from New Zealand, but they are at every grocery store here under the brand Delmaine and they are the primary reason I’m gaining about a pound a day.
Every once and a great while I have the opportunity to taste how the other half lives – what it might be like to eat food lovingly prepared and where most importantly, expense is no issue. When this happens I often catch myself thinking in a bitter way, some people get to eat like this all the time, but then I snap out of it. That aggrandizing the very rich bullshit only leads to wondering why I can’t see the doctor whenever I need to and that road leads to madness.
On the other hand, when some very generous and kind friends offer to take you and your manmeat to Terrôir, the restaurant at Craggy Range vinyard in Hawke’s Bay New Zealand, you say yes please and show up with bells on.
I’m not going to mess around with photos of the surrounding countryside or the striking facilities themselves because blah blah blah jibber jabber. FOOD.
Duck liver parfait, brandied raisins, toasted brioche and onion marmalade
As a starter, Hal and I had pâté (for some reason called “parfait” on the menu — I thought it was going to be layered in a glass, a kind of cheeky, organmeat food-prank, but it came out as a standard pâté, which then makes me think that someone screwed up on the menu and was all, what was that word again? Parfait?) with a sweet onion marmalade which basically made me embarrass myself with noises.
The pâté itself was perfectly smooth and velvety and lacked that kind of grossly rich quality that pâté sometimes has and was instead just delightfully near-overwhelmingly rich.
Whitloof and pear salad, Roquefort, wild rocket, honey walnuts and Craggy Range olive oil
Marika had a salad with endive (also called chickory, also called Witloof, though I’ve never seen it spelled with an h before, as seen here, which I realize now looks like I’m nitpicking the menu which I guess I am but I hope you understand only increases my enjoyment of it all), which I thought looked lovely but endive makes me cry so I didn’t even have a taste. She appeared to enjoy it.
Twice baked soufflé of roast garlic and gruyere with red pepper, basil and new season asparagus
Her main was a fantastic soufflé with a medallion of red pepper and a few spears of asparagus. I had a taste of the souffle and it was perfect: a texture that no word can really lend the respect it deserves. Never eggy, not foamy, soufflé should be like eating a rich cloud, and this one was no exception.
Grilled beef fillet, parmesan gnocchi, crisp veal sweetbreads, braised baby leeks
Mike ordered beef, because it was his birthday and I promised him a steak. It pains me to say it, but the beef wasn’t up to the rest of Terrôir’s standards. The fillet itself was medium, though he ordered medium-rare, and it was one of those moments of “Do I send it back?” Part of me feels an obligation to send back expensive cuts of meat when they are cooked improperly, but another part of me (and a vocal part of Mike) knows that when you’re not at a renowned steakhouse, you’re gambling on beef quality. Fillet (also known as filet mignon) is a very lean, very tricky piece of meat. It is often wrapped in bacon to protect the tendency toward dryness, and even still takes a delicate hand in the saute pan. That it was overdone is unsurprising. After a quick debate, Mike decided he’d prefer to eat lunch in a timely manner rather than send it back.
The sweetbreads were delicious, though overwhelmed by their frying batter, the gnocci were lovely and the baby leeks were tough to chew.
I feel the need to note that the staff were otherwise utterly pleasant in an unforced, easygoing way that made our Fancy Pants Lunch a pleasure. We threw them a few curveballs (we moved tables! sacrebleu!) and they caught them all with tact and skill.
Slow cooked rabbit leg with duck confit mousse, pancetta, sautéed liver and pearl barley risotto
Finally, my outrageous lunch. I haven’t eaten this much midday since Thanksgiving. First, the criticism: the waiter warned me that the rabbit was wild, and therefore had a stronger, gamy flavor. I nodded enthusiastically. Since it was slow-cooked, it should be tender and rich, like lean chicken thighs left to stew for hours. What I got was a very firm, very delicious leg of rabbit that I couldn’t eat a third of because my dinner knife would not cut through it. Another instance of: if I had said something, I’m certain the situation would have been remedied immediately. On the other hand, I was nearly done with my meal and had reached a point of fullness that bordered on painful, so I just took it as a signal to stop eating.
However, the revelation? That liver in front there, the glistening dark red pieces of meat, were incredible. I had no idea organ meat could be so fine! It was rich and clean and soft and the exterior was salty and crispy, and I could have easily eaten an entire entree of it, especially if it had been atop that toothsome, perfect barley risotto. Liver! Who knew?
I know what you are thinking: where’s the damn meatpie reporting in this three-legged dog of a blog? RELAX. It is here.
A long, long time ago1, when I was last in Wellington there was a lot of scuttlebutt around town that the cafe to be at if you were a nerd was Chocolate Fish in Miramar. Why the place to be? Well, it was the Weta Studios cafe of choice. What is Weta you ask? HOW DARE YOU! It’s the home of Lord of the Rings! The movies, I mean. So basically: the best prop masters in the world, something that titillates my ocelot if you know what I mean and I think you do. And apparently, anyone that fancied themselves a potential employee of Weta could do worse than to sit around Chocolate Fish cafe and make note of who’s who. So off we went!
As memory serves, it was a beautiful beachfront little cafe with an excellent savory scone and ample servings of its eponymous treats. Since we were going to be in the area today, I begged my host to take us to Chocolate Fish so I could relive the footloose carefree days of my youth.
And it’s not there anymore.
Here’s the weird thing: I Googled it and in a kind of blind hopefulness ignored the results that clearly said stuff like “Beloved Miramar Cafe Closing” and yadda yadda and instead focused on the fact that Google Maps still located the cafe at 497a Karaka Road, so off we went. And discovered that it is now called, of all things, Scorch-o-Rama. I know, I don’t know either. I was deflated and we needed to eat so we went in.
Perhaps I deserved it, but their pies were abysmal. Mike’s egg and bacon pie (above) looked great on paper but ended up being a bland, heavy lump of hard-cooked egg and tasteless pieces of ham. He made it through about a third of it before giving up. At least the accompanying tomato chutney was tasty, a pleasant sweet-tart alternative to ketchup.
My friend and I shared a spinach and feta pie, which was mostly empty and suffered as Mike’s did from a fatal run-in with a microwave. Meatpies are commonly and blessedly made from flaky pastry. Scorch-o-Rama’s pies are made from a tough, unseasoned crust that seemed to be intended not for taste, but for durability.
When I got home I looked up the demise of Chocolate Fish on the internet and encountered a scandal! Apparently in 2007 the building’s owners raised the rent of the cafe something astronomical (one reliable source claims it was raised from $800 to $8,000 a month) coincidentally around the time their son completed training to be a cook. So distraught was the community that the city council stepped in to ensure Chocolate Fish could move somewhere nearby with minimum fuss.
But wait! Soon after a community petition went around to save Chocolate Fish, the landlord killed himself! And the blame was placed on mean notes on Facebook! Escandalo! (Crotchety Deborah Coddington can bring you up to speed here, but be warned: she gives the Baby Boomer set a bad name by blustering in confusion about “blogs”.) Yikes! And then the son did open a new cafe in Chocolate Fish’s old spot! It’s like Days of Our Lives in cafe form.
But who knows what the truth is here, other than: meatpie fail. No good. The rest is just drama.
1 Five years ago.
I don’t like doing this, but I have to vent a little about Dreamhost, my internet hosting service. The short version is: about every five days the servers go down. And I mean completely down, and takes anywhere from 4 to 24 hours to sort itself out again. This isn’t really such a big deal in the world scheme of things, but in the “I’m paying for this?!” spectrum, it means a lot to me.
An anecdotal mistake I made was going to the Dreamhost status blog and posting a terse comment about the frequency of downtime1 after which I was crushed under a deluge of enraged customers spewing at me “OH BOOHOO MY SERVISE BEEN DOWN FOR 6DAYS I HAVE 167 WEBSTES FAGGOTS!!!11!” I love trolls, they make me feel so smart for knowing what the little red underline means.
Today is miserably rainy and windy, so here’s an older photo of me eating a Burger Ring and using my “I’m a moron!” smile which I never realize until too late isn’t so much funny as much as moronic. Nice double chin.
1 Actually, technically I bitched about the fact that they announced on the blog that everything was “back up and running!” when it totally wasn’t and wouldn’t be for another three hours – Mission Accomplished!
I’m an adolescent, both in behavior and emotion, so whenever I see gimmicky junkfood I’m limited only by my unwillingness to spend too much of my allowance.
Burger Rings? In a “single serve” pack? Oh yeah, I bought that shit. Even better, I ate it. We had just driven through the Rimutaka Pass, a series of 180° hair-pin turns beloved by asshole drivers1 and I needed an injection of sodium and MSG as quickly as possible. Burger Rings to the rescue? Sort of. They didn’t really taste like anything but ‘savory‘, to be honest, sort of like a cross between a Funyun and a Cheeto. They did make my tummy feel better.
Which was all ruined a little while later when we busted into a packet of Starburst Squirts Crazy Babies. I’m not sure what I thought they were going to be when I bought them, I mean, I know I laughed and said “Crazy Babies?!” or something, but I wasn’t prepared for what Mike handed me later that day.
They’re sort of pretty, actually, a transparent gummy with a different colored center. They are soft to the touch, and I guess I didn’t comprehend that the center was liquid until I felt one in my fingers, so I tentatively took a nibble and OH MY GOD, WHY —
— WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO US? Having the center be liquid is one thing but WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE PINK PUS? Now I understand why the poor bastard on the package looked so chagrined while clutching at his gushing abdomen. He’s not horrified to have suffered a mortal wound, he’s embarrassed.
1 The Rimutaka Pass, often called Rimutaka Hill, is used as an illegal touge racing track by both cars and motorcycles. The motorcycles even lane split, a practice potentially dangerous on flat roads, let alone windy, narrow, barrier-less mountain passes. There are, in fact, a bevy of YouTube videos such as this one that demonstrate exactly what I’m talking about — it’s not an exciting video, its just a bunch of douchebags gunning their engines and then slowing down when they reach some commuters.