As American As...

photo: oeuf norvegien, 42 f

If Norweigan eggs are not 'American,' they should be.

Chop Suey Pea Soup Injera Wrapped
Apple Pie Donuts

by Adrian Leeds

Paris:- Thursday, 11. May 2000:- Let me just get the bad news out of the way first: American coffee doestaste like 'jus de chaussettes' - 'sock juice!' After living in France six years, and as an infant weaned on New Orleans café au lait, even mighty Starbucks couldn't satisfy my craving for a real cup of 'real' coffee.

The good news is that great American dining is very much alive and well, creative cooking is the rage and portions are bigger than ever. Even Starbucks calls their small a 'tall' and tall it is, nearly twice the size of an average French 'café crème.'

This I learned during an eating tour on the US' east coast. For two weeks - starting in New York, traveling down to Washington DC, over to Long Island and then ending up again in Manhattan - I chowed down on the most typical of American restaurant fare today.

With my daughter, the two of us satisfied our cravings for old faithfuls - like hot dogs, hamburgers, pancakes and apple pie; but added to this list such multi-ethnic contributions as chop suey in Chinatown, pasta in Little Italy, Ethiopian 'injera' in Washington DC - which is believed to be the city with the world's second largest Ethiopian population, after Ethiopia itself.

To this 'traditional' fare we added the newest addition to every menu across the continent - 'wraps!' We didn't miss much and neither do most people living in America.

In the mid '90's a young guy in San Francisco had the bright idea to open a cafe called 'It's a Wrap.' Forphoto: croute de canard this he created a line-up of soft flour tortillas filled with everything from snow crab to squash as a portable on-the-go version of a sandwich.

'Croute de Canard' is not found all over America, even if it should be.

For non-American readers let me explain that a classic sandwich consists of two slices of bread with something tasty in between them. The 'sandwich' was named after the Fourth Earl of Sandwich - born 1718, died 1792 - who invented them so he could continue gambling without interruption. Note that he was 74 when he died!

However, the sandwich came to America even before it was invented - in the form of the settlement of Sandwich on Cape Cod, Massachusetts - incorporated in 1639 - thus giving America worldwide rights to its brand-name.

Now just a few years later, it's tough to find a menu that doesn't list at least one or two 'wraps.' More and more restaurants specialize in America's hottest 'don't need utensils' - use your fingers! - eating habits, according to the international newsletter on food trends, 'Trend/Wire.'

At this point I wonder if Americans are adverse to using utensils other than spoons because they never learned how to hold a fork in the left hand, the knife in the right, and pick up food with the fork upside down? Like the Europeans do.

Nonetheless, the 'wrap' is certainly faster to eat than the proverbial three-course French meal, with its two spoons, three forks and three knives, or more - plus several crystal glasses! Is this is the main reason for the success of 'wraps?'

The Baja Grill Bordery Eatery in East Northport, Long Island, offers three kinds of 'Fajita Wraps,' five kinds of 'Cool Wraps,' seven kinds of 'Hot Wraps' and three kinds of 'UnWrapped' wraps, which are eaten like sliced pizza.

I tried a 'Fried Calamari Wrap' - with mixed greens, pico de gallo, guacamole and cilantro limephoto: charlotte aux fruits rouges dressing - but thought the 'Grilled Chicken Caesar Wrap' was a particularly creative use of the trendy 1920's Caesar Salad, but without its traditional nearly raw eggs.

Try wrapping your dessert fork around this 'Charlotte aux Fruits Rouges.'

Believe it or not, the best Caesar Salad we found - and my daughter ordered one almost everywhere we went - was at My Most Favorite Dessert, a kosher restaurant in the Times Square district of Manhattan. It was twice the price of any other, but it was well worth it.

Kosher dining isn't often on my list, but for my yarmelke-wearing friends in New York, I'd go anywhere. 'My Most Favorite Dessert' is a large, nicely decorated two-level space, always buzzing and consistently dishing out a quality meals to those who choose not to mix their meat and milk.

I don't remember ever seeing Caesar Salad on a menu in France, but friends say I've overlooked it in the one or two that have them. Yes, I do miss them. Every now and then, I concoct one at home.

Our first night in the 'Big Apple' happened to be a Sunday night and is the traditional night of the week for Jews to eat out in Chinatown, we headed straight for New York Noodletown in the Bowery.

I had become fond of this restaurant from previous trips. It has a good reputation for cheap and delicious food and it hasn't changed.

However, cheaper and even more delicious, was the Chung How Chinese Kitchen in East Setauket, Long Island. Their menu has over 200 items to choose from, with nothing more expensive than $10.95 - for the Cantonese dish called 'Happy Family.'

The strange thing about Chung How is that nobody, but nobody eats in the restaurant itself. Almost 100 percent of its diners take out the food, so the kitchen is twice the size of the sit-down restaurant side of the place. We got a chuckle out of this bizarre scene, but the portions were so large that five of us could only eat half of what we ordered, and all of it for a measly $50. What a deal!

You can't get American donuts - 'doughnuts' for British readers, 'berliner' for German readers - in Paris. At least, not that I know of. But you can get them in New York on just about every corner.

Do you know the kinds I mean? Round with a hole or twisted like a rope, glazed, powdered, chocolate covered, sprinkled, you-name-it, sweet and gooey. To be eaten with fingers only, please! Curbside stands offer every assortment imaginable, with a 'sock juice'-tasting coffee of your choice.

When I was living in Knoxville, Tennessee, the most popular spot in town was the Krispy Kremephoto: poulet au curry, sandwich café where you could watch hot glazed donuts come right off the conveyer belt to plop into a box, where a dozen sat flat, side by side.

'Poulet au Curry' is a little different when found inside fresh French bread.

It was impossible to eat just one and I knew lots of folks who could gobble down a dozen at a sitting. Today, Krispy Kreme is hot - no pun intended - and is opening shops from coast to coast. Buy its stock as soon as you've finished reading this!

Unfortunately, I didn't personally have the perfect burger during the entire 'American-food' binge. But in a 'classic' diner in Manhattan, I ogled what I would call the 'real thing' being served up, bigger and fatter and juicier than ever, smothered in cheese and bacon, with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup. I'm pretty sure there was a pickle too.

They looked delicious! You could tell by the sheer numbers of burgers coming off the grill, that they were about as good as they get or better.

What a shame that the French don't have a clue how good a real burger can be, since their idea of an American hamburger is a 'McDo' version, so correctly denounced by peasant leader José Bové.

By sheer fluke, we stumbled into another 'classic' New York diner looking for a phone and a place to rest our weary feet. It turned out that Joe Junior's, at the corner of 12th Street and Avenue of the Americas, is where Manhattan's neighborhood folks line up for pea soup, a specialty only served on Mondays and Saturdays.

Luckily for us, it was Monday and I must say the pea soup was damned good. The phone worked too and our feet got a welcome breather!

When I mentioned Joe Junior's to friends living in the city, they all said "of course!" - since it's an institution everyone in the know knows about.

Gorgeous Gregg, son of Joe Junior and the regular counter guy, seemed to know the name of everyone who came in, althoughphoto: tartelette, 19 f he said, after 26 years of serving up pea soup to the regulars, " That's a piece of cake." We skipped the cake this particular afternoon.

My daughter's idea of 'American pig-out heaven' is ribs. Baby Back Barbecued Ribs at Timothy's in Wilmington, Delaware are sold by the slab. One slab is a small portion. Ha! You should see the large portions. America has very big pigs in fact.

At 19 francs the piece, these 'Tartelettes' are near give-aways. Get three!

At the 'Outback,' Long Island's answer to an Aussie 'barbie,' imported ribs, smoked and grilled, served with Aussie chips -- 'French fries' in America and the French call them 'frites' or, if they are formal, 'pommes frites' - and cinnamon apples are more than enough for two adults, I can assure you.

More important than that, they were seriously 'finger-lickin' good!' Again, non-utensil dining was quite acceptable, especially for licking greasy fingers.

Throughout our journey we got hooked on 'root beer floats' and argued whether they were better with vanilla or chocolate ice cream. Purists prefer vanilla. I prefer chocolate, but this is probably a Paris influence.

The French have never heard of this concoction, mainly because they've never heard of or tasted root beer. In fact, for some unthinkable reason root beer is almost unknown outside of America.

Where I come from, Barq's root beer is the best. We all - all 260 million of us - seem to have our favorite brand. Friends we stayed with on Long Island have since reported that now that we've left, they've gotten hooked too, as if it were a non-toxic kind of recreational drug. I miss them already - both the root beer floats and the friends.

In 'our nation's capitol' we sopped up delicately spiced morsels of meats, chicken, shrimp and vegetables with Ethiopian 'injera, a spongy slightly sour crepe-like bread, in a restaurant in the Adams-Morgan area of Washington called Meskerem.

The injera are layered on a round table and stew-like mixtures are piled on top, then more injera are used to scoop up and eat the stews. We all agreed that we liked the stews, but the spongy consistency of the injera left us cold. Once again, cutlery is for the faint of heart or clean-finger fanatics.

Considering the terrible famine Ethiopia is experiencing now, it occurred to me that 'Ethiopian Cuisine' is an oxymoron in itself.

Being in DC - also known as 'our nation's capitol' - so close to the Maryland shore where the blue crab are plentiful, was an opportunity for me I wasn't going to pass up.

The Dancing Crab on Wisconsin Avenue often serves up 'all-you-can-eat' boiled blue crabs in the traditional method - simply, on layers of yesterday's newspapers, along with a mallet for cracking their claws.

My friends were long finished with their oyster sandwiches and clam chowder while I was still cracking and peeling. One dozen crabs and two hours later, I finally turned in my mallet in exchangephoto: rapide sandwich, resto for the check. My mother swears that one time while vacationing on the Gulf Coast, she and a friend ate one hundred crabs in one sitting after catching and boiling them, so it certainly seems I inherited her appetite.

In Paris, Lina's Sandwiches is pumping out paninis all over town and you can get a baguette filled with Jambon de Paris in almost every boulangerie, but you still can't get a real club sandwich.

Parisian sandwich joints are easier on the nerves, if not on the pocketbook.

This is exactly what I got at the Lyric Diner on 3rd Avenue near Gramercy Park in Manhattan, where a club sandwich consists of sliced breast of turkey, lettuce, tomato, bacon and mayonnaise on three pieces of whole wheat toast, cut into quarters, skewered by a 'dressed-up' toothpick, and accompanied by French-fries and a dill pickle.

I could only finish three of the quarters, half the fries, half the pickle but, of course, I managed to down all of the root beer float. What's a club sandwich without a root beer float?

In the end, that last morning before our plane headed home to Paris, we had our favorite American food of all - one big flat pancake with a fried egg on top, four strips of bacon, butter and syrup.

What a shame I had to wash it down with 'sock juice' and have my super all-American 'pig-out' come to such a dismal end. It was certainly fun, undeniably memorable and I learned one very important thing - what's more American than apple pie?

French fries, of course.

Note: Due to 'Ed's' continental status, all photos above are of food conditions in Paris last week.
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