SK bought this book for my birthday last year, which details New Yorker writer Calvin Trillin’s love affair, with food and with his wife. A persistent and voracious gourmand, Trillin is a man who will beg a friend traveling through New Mexico to pack tamales in dry ice and fly them to him.
Trillin’s wife, Alice, was half foil and half partner in crime. While exasperated that their trip to Italy allowed no time for museums and natural beauty (too many restaurants to try), she bore a hearty appetite, and would often indulge her own food cravings while her husband was on his quests.
When I flew out to San Fran two weeks ago, I packed two New York delicacies in my 57-pound (actual weight) suitcase, trusting the Luggage Gods to ship my bag with delicacy and grace. Both of these foods were SK favorites, and I knew the Trillin aspects of traveling 3,000 miles with the perfect meal would not be lost on her.
The first item was easy, and a no-brainer. At this Bosniian restaurant near my house, SK and I used to laugh at the sign proudly proclaiming “Best Burek in New York!” Okay dudes, we’ll take your word for it. Then some world-traveler friends told us that for years, they’d been craving something they used to eat in Budapest- burek! We tried it that night, and oh what a treat.
It’s basically buttery, flaky filo-type dough surrounding spiced beef or spinach and cheese, and it’s amazing. SK (typically a fresh, healthy eater) started clamoring for burek whenever she’d stay at my apartment. When my dad visited town from Maine, we sent him back on the bus with a pound of burek in a bag. So obvi, I’d be taking some on the plane to Cali.
The second item was a little more tricky. One of SK’s favorite New York restaurants is this isolated bistro, jammed under the elevated train tracks in the outer reaches of Bushwick, Brooklyn. It’s an incredibly charming place, with live cabaret music and a chic early-century French bistro aesthetic, but it’s the food that kept us coming back. Our top picks were fresh buttery mussels, gruyère mac and cheese, and…date cake.
Sound like something you’d pick up at the Lady’s Auxiliary bake sale? Wrong. SK is a sweets snob, and this is her favorite dessert in all of NYC. It starts with a dense, moist piece of cake, with subtle date undertones. It would just be a piece of cake though, if it wasn’t drizzled with an INCREDIBLE buttery toffee sauce, enhanced with fresh whipped cream and a mint leaf.
Not the easiest thing to transport though! Two days before my trip, I tricked three friends into meeting me at Moto so I could take a piece of date cake to go. Somehow between the restaurant and our post-meal drinks at a nearby bar, the to-go container exploded, spreading huge gobs of toffee sauce all over the inside of the plastic bag. My friends chuckled and said it’s a lost cause. “Who are you kidding dude, you’re gonna eat that before the night is through.”
Not so! As you may recall, I was able to keep a hard-earned lobster roll intact overnight for a sad co-worker, so I could definitely keep SK’s fave dessert untouched for two days. When I got home, I squeezed all the toffee sauce down into one corner of the plastic bag, like the last remnants of a tube of toothpaste. Then I cut a little hole and squeezed the sauce back onto the cake, like a pastry froster! (so innovative)
I stuck the cake in a tupperware and froze it until minutes before I left for the airport Saturday. I bought the burek at 8:30 that morning for maximum freshness and voila, I was off. I told SK not to make dinner plans that night, as “I had somewhere in mind”: my suitcase!
I won 82 boyfriend points that night.