Sunday, September 2, 2012

Finally, finally, made it out to Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe in Chelmsford, MA.  This appears to be a pizza joint converted into a Chinese take-out place.  From the name, you wouldn't expect to find a few of the best Xi'an dishes outside of Flushing, Queens.  As might be expected, you order at the counter, help yourselves to utensils and napkins, grab sodas out of the fridge, and are served on trays.

Larry T and John B joined me for a romp through the menu.  Everybody had their own bowl of Hand-Pulled Noodles -- imagine a 3 foot long noodle, roughly equivalent to a lasagna sheet in texture and made entire by hand.  Star of the menu, certainly.  Served warm with a spicy chili sauce and minced garlic in a lot of chili sesame oil.  Stir it up, and dig in.  Larry was having some difficulty making a neat, polite bite full using only chopsticks, which occasioned this piece of advice:  "Look, it's too long. It'll be easier to just put one end into your mouth and start sucking." 

We each also had our own flatbread sandwich, filled either with pulled pork or spicy strips of flank steak with chili peppers and lots of cumin.  Sadly, the pork was nothing special.  The steak - made of beef rather than the typical lamb, no doubt in deference to local patron's taste - was much better, with the cumin redolent of the best of such sandwiches. 

Despite being, admittedly, full at this point, we couldn't let this opportunity pass.  So we shared two more noodle dishes.  The Xi'an cold noodles were typical thin wheat noodles in a milder version of the minced garlic in chili sesame oil sauce, with toppings consisting of shredded carrots and cucumbers, bean sprouts and cilantro.  Also included was what was described as a tea egg, but to my eye looked and tasted more like a soy-simmered egg.  Stir it all up, and voila!

The last noodle dish was the House noodle soup.  The same thin wheat noodles in a chicken-based soup with a splash of vinegar and the same spicy chili sesame oil.  The veggies in the soup were what I'd guess would be corns, peas and carrots out of a frozen bag.  One wouldn't think it special, but for the thin strips of scrambled egg (think Tamago, but not rolled) and especially the double-cooked pork belly, which elevated this otherwise plain noodle soup.

The only real disappointment was due to the fact that my favorite Xi'an dish, the Liang Pi noodles (on the menu as "Xi'an Chilled Noodles") sells out early and are available only on weekends.  We missed out.  Doh.  We were also tempted to try the Lamb stew with noodles, but ran out of appetite.  A return for the Liang Pi noodles and Lamb stew is on order.

It should be noted that Gene's also serves a few, uh, American dishes, no doubt to appease the local workforce stopping by for lunch - or more likely, the less-adventuresome friends who are being dragged here for lunch.  These include Lo Mein, chicken teriyaki, crab rangoon, chicken fingers, etc.  No, we did not order any of those.

Bottom line -- very highly recommended for anyone who appreciates Chinese noodle dishes, particulary Xi'an style with lots of garlic and chili sauce.  Worth a try, in any event.  We'll be back.

Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe
257 Littleton Rd
Chelmsford, MA 01824
(978) 256-6789

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A hop down to Atlanta for a Fried Chicken Sampler

Yes, I have an abiding love and passion for Popeyes Fried Chicken, explored in great detail elsewhere.  I honestly think the spicy thigh is the best piece of fried chicken in the world, hands down -- and even the Wall St Journal agrees, comparing it to "legendary" fried chicken joints across the South.

A very short trip to Atlanta allowed me the opportunity to test this theory myself.  I flew in on a Monday, arriving at lunchtime.  I walked right by this Popeyes outlet in the ATL airport, which brought back the fond memories of enjoying some chicken at this very outlet on my way to Zurich and Maranello.  But, for once in my life, I passed by an airport Popeyes because I had to save room for . . .

Mary Mac's Tea Room, one of the few remaining grand dames of Atlanta tea rooms.  Although fully update, it still has an atmosphere of what I imagined to be, say, 1957, though it's fully integrated today (about 40% of the diners were white during my visit).  Walking in, I was reminded of just how friendly Southerners really are, and their hospitality isn't the result of hours of Danny Meyer-esque training.

My meal here started with a potlikker (complimentary for 1st time visitors), which I learned is the hot liquid from boiling collard greens and seasoned with pork.  The waitress indicated that I should break up a small piece of cornbread --itself embedded with pork!-- and dip it in the liquid, like dropping oyster crackers into chowder.  Tasty?  Sure.  But since I didn't have any childhood memories of this tradition, it didn't make me dying for more.

I ordered the Southern tradition of a meat and two sides, in this case the fried chicken meal for $12.50, with four pieces (leg, thigh, wing, breast), along with an extra side.  I also had the first of many sweet teas in Atlanta, the version here being an exemplar of the breed.

The fried green tomatoes:  fried to perfection; the crisp and hot exterior was a nice contrast to the cooler, crisp bite of the tomato.  The cheese and veggie soufflé was delicious, though somewhat indistinct.  The sweet potato soufflé, complete with a dab of marshmallow fluff, was sweeter than many desserts.

But what about the chicken?  The chicken was . . . good, but better can be had elsewhere.  The dark meat was very good, and the crust was traditional.  The breast suffered from being overcooked and dry.  Overall, I'll give Mary Macs high points for ambiance and wonderful service, not to mention an excellent value.  I'd eagerly return to sample the other Southern specialities, but the fried chicken?  Good, but not memorable.  I'll add that Mary Macs does have a Goodwill Ambassador that roams from table to table, offering guests a back rub.  Hmmmm....

A late dinner was had at Curly's Fried Chicken, a take-out storefront that seems to be a renovated, modernized version of what may have been a long-standing neighborhood favorite.

Very upscale, nattily dressed and German-SUV-driving African Americans comprised the majority of the patrons, while the remainder consisted of local college students.  Surprisingly busy for 10:30 pm on a Monday night.  A few parking spaces out front, and only a handful of bar-top tables.

I had the Dre's Combo for $8, with three thighs, a slice of white bread, cole slaw and a heaping pile of fried okra.  The frying technique was impeccable, with each piece of okra being a nugget of juiciness encased in a pipping hot shell.  The chicken had a very light cornmeal coating.  Though cooked properly, it wasn't particularly seasoned, and the pieces were definitely traditional "fryer" chicken, on the small side.  Hot sauce was available, but the chicken was supposed to be "spicy", though it was barely detectable.  Verdict:  the chicken was better than Mary Mac's, but still not nearly as good as Popeyes.

Lunch on Tuesday had to be rushed, as I had a plane to catch.  I stopped at The Busy Bee Cafe, but the line out the door convinced me to just order it as takeout.  The interior is what one might expect a 65 year-old Atlanta institution to resemble, though the website is thoroughly hipster-ized. 

The food was definitely disappointing.  I had the fried chicken special for $12.99 - two pieces, dark or white, and two sides.

The carrot souffle was sweetened carrots mixed in a blender and served with an ice cream scoop.  The broccoli and cheese casserole appeared to be those two ingredients, blended and stirred into a box of rice pilaf, and again served with an ice cream scoop.  The chicken was somewhat overcooked, though crispy, with a flour crust.  No particularly outstanding flavor.  Just standard fried chicken that could be had most anywhere, probably even at your local Chilis.  Not a great value either, and overall, something of a bummer.

What did I learn in my 24-hours in Atlanta?  That I did possess the will to bypass Popeyes, not once but twice (the thought did occur to get a piece on my way home through ATL, if only to scrub the memory of the Busy Bee).  That I do very much enjoy traditional Southern cooking, and look forward to going back to Mary Mac's.  And Curly's Fried Chicken resembled nothing so much as Kelley's Roast Beef in Revere.  Popeyes still reigns.  Got suggestions?  Let me know!

Addendum:  I also grabbed a small order of Mighty Wings, a new menu item that McDonald's is testing in greater Atlanta.  Really, I happened to be in the one place in America that McDonald's is testing fried chicken; how could I *not* try it?  Quick verdict:  I got the batch at 5pm, and I suspect it had been sitting in the holding station for some time.  Overcooked -- but it showed great promise, as it was still quite tasty.  If McDonald's decides to make it a standard menu item, it'd raise the average for them (see the review here).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Automobile Magazine article on the Supercars Across America trip is now posted online!

Check it out, and let us know what you think. Or better yet, let the editors of the magazine know! :-)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Getcher copy of Automobile Magazine now!

For the 3 of you that may care, the Automobile Magazine article on our Supercars Across America trip is now out! Subscribers should be receiving the November issue in their mailboxes any day (some have already gotten it), and it's available now on newsstands.

YouTube videos:

Tail of the Dragon, TN/NC. 318 Curves in 11 miles. This is a video of the Ferrari 16M tackling the road, with Dennis driving and Mark shooting from the passenger seat (and trying not to hurl). Drove it at "The Pace", a term motorcyclists use to mean going as fast as possible WITHOUT having to resort to braking, and using the whole road BUT without crossing the double yellow. Just balancing that throttle, baby!

Ferrari 612 Scaglietti climbing the mountain with Dan driving and Glenn feeling queasy in the passenger seat, shot by Justin Forte and friends on chase motorcycles. Shot while following the 16M in the video above.

Sidebar: Places of Interest to Eat and Sleep:

Dylan Hotel. We stayed at this newly reopened luxury boutique with surprisingly reasonable rates in midtown East. My suite had vaulted ceiling approximately 20’ high. 52 East 41st Street, New York, NY‎. (212) 338-0500‎.

Alfredo of Rome, classic Italian restaurant at Rockefeller Center. Its progenitor in Rome has been in business for nearly a century, and lays claim to being the originator of Fettucini Alfredo. 4 W 49th St, New York, NY. (212) 397-0100.

Trattoria Cinque, a brand new Italian joint in the heart of TriBeCa has an Italian motorsport design motif. 363 Greenwich Street., New York, NY 212.965.0555

The inspiring custom Bertone Manitde cake came from Sweet Results, Framingham, MA. Laura Kean Anes, the baker, does some “wicked awesome” stuff with sugarpaste. Check out photos of other masterpieces here:

Scruggs Real Pit Barbecue. Not the best of neighborhoods, but a smoked pork sandwich to die for (and depending on the time of night, you do run that risk). 1920 E Magnolia Ave, Knoxville, TN. (865) 524-4333

Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis. Actually located in the upscale suburb of Clayton, this Ritz-Carlton offers a nice mélange of modern hospitality and old European style. The world’s most comfortable hotel bed added major points. 100 Carondelet Plaza, St. Louis, MO‎. (314) 863-6300‎.

Ritz-Carlton, Denver. Same attention to detail and hospitality as the other Ritz-Carlton, but with a distinctively different modern style. Very comfortable beds as well, and a kick-ass breakfast menu. 1881 Curtis St, Denver, CO. (303) 312-3800.

Gateway Canyons Resort. In the middle of nowhere, it’s where you really must go. Offering a full service spa, rock climbing, river sports, horseback riding, and most importantly, spectacular roads and exotic car rentals with which to enjoy them. You won’t regret it. 43200 Hwy 141, Gateway, CO. (970) 931-2458. and

Mi Rancherito Mexican Restaurant. If you find yourself touring along RT 50 in Utah, stop here for the best pork verde in a 100 mile radius. 540 Topaz Blvd, Delta, UT. (435) 864-4245‎.

Owl Club & Steak House. Full of character, this is a glorified diner with impressively good burgers and chili. The bar and “casino” next door has slots and some large hunting trophies.
61 S Main St, Eureka, NV. (775) 237-5280.

The Village at Squaw Valley. Pre-fab ski village North of Lake Tahoe, the Village caters to outdoor enthusiasts and families during the summer. Large 2 and 3 bedroom suites available at great prices, and interesting restaurants and shops in the adjacent village. 1750 Village East Road, Olympic Valley, CA. (866) 818-6963.

étoile at Domaine Chandon. Named one of the most romantic restaurants in the US, this is a true fine dining destination at a Napa winery. 1 California Dr, Yountville, CA. (707) 204-7529‎.

We had to professional photographers accompany us on portions of our trip. Daniel Byrne, of NYC, did the NY/NJ launch, and Brian Konoske of LA did the last day, from Squaw Valley through Tahoe, Napa and San Francisco. Both are great guys, very easy to work with, and highly talented!

Daniel Byrne,,,

Brian Konoske,,

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Catching up....

Still can't quite believe we did it. I submitted a 9,600 word masterpiece/giant stinkin' pile of rubbish to Automobile Magazine, about twice the length they had specified. Oops. The editors were kind enough to spend several days hacking away the useless bits with a chainsaw to get it down to something like 3,700 words, and with the photos they selected from the professional photographers, Mark and yours truly, it's an EIGHT PAGE spread. You'll be able to see it in the next (November) issue, and I'm pretty pleased.

After that comes out, I may post the funny bits that didn't meet their high standards (all of the rude jokes, the innuendo, idle gossip, and complete and utter lies) on this blog, so stay tuned.

And to catch everyone up: on the Monday after we arrive at Monterey, Glenn, Mark and Dennis finally sleep in and are ready to fly home. Except, to our utter shock and amazement, every single rental car, limo service and scooter in a 100 mile radius of Monterey has been reserved. How could this possibly happen? It's not like it's the BUSIEST WEEK OF THE YEAR ON THE PENINSULA or anything like that. Ooops.

So, finally we track down a black car service to take Mark to SFO to catch his flight, sucking cubic dollars out of his wallet. I was able to phone up old friend Leland and beg and plead for him to leave his adorable baby girl, hop in his Prius and drive down to Monterey to pick up Glenn and me. As we head up to catch our evening flight, I reflect on the ignominy of taking this last stage in a PRIUS, of all vehicles, with Leland extolling on its gas mileage virtues. Blech.

But we arrive home safe and sound, and I proceed to reintroduce myself to my 4 and 6 year old daughters, who I don't think quite realized I was gone for a week ("Oh, daddy, you're home. Did you bring us anything?"), kiss my understanding and patient wife, and collapse into a 2-day slumber. I love my bed.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Our full cross-country route depicted on Google Maps

Interested in exactly what roads we took? Here's the complete route for Dan and Dennis, 4,643 miles. It includes the 953 miles that Dan and Dennis drove from Bayonne, NJ to St Louis, MO, after they flew from Nashville back to NY to pick up the Bertone Mantide after it was released by customs.

[EDIT: because I *am* that obsessive-compulsive, I added...]

Includes the route that Mark and Glenn took from Nashville to St Louis to meet us, and now also includes the excursion Mark took on Days 6-7 up to Salt Lake City from Arches National Park to drop off Nathaniel --- and drive the 612 Scaglietti on the Bonneville Salt Flats! Finally, this now also has the 250 miles I drove to get from the Boston area down to NYC for the kick-off dinner, including the stop in Framingham, MA to pick up the custom Bertone Mantide cake and dropping it off at Alfredo's of Rome.

But it still doesn't show the 22+ extra miles resulting from us doing the Tail of the Dragon three times over!

I strongly suggest that you click through to see it all in a full Google Maps page (note that the route is laid out on two pages in the frame on the left-side of the page). Enjoy!

View Supercars Across America - full route map in a larger map

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Day 8 - to the goal line, from Tahoe to Monterey

Yup, this post is late, sorry. Day 8 was a great way to finish off our journey, as it captured the essence of the trip: scenic twisty mountain roads, highway sprints, gourmet dining and takeout pizza, broiling in the sun and hurrying to make up time. Bob Farrell, Glenn's equally crazy, fun and hilarious brother, joined us for the final day in his Ferrari Challenge Stradale, coming up from Del Mar for the fun.

The day started out with a leisurely cruise down the Eastern (Nevada) side of Lake Tahoe. We had Brian Konosoke, a photographer from LA, shooting us for Automobile magazine. He hopped from car to car, including his Audi S4 wagon driven by his assistant Eddie, but spent much of the day shooting from the passenger seat of the Ferrari 16M Scuderia convertible. It's fascinating how much the shoreline route around the lake can change in just a few miles. There are pristine mountain curves in the park area, preceded by expensive lake side mansions and followed by the pure American capitalism of the slightly-cheesy casinos.

Route 50 leading out of Tahoe was scenic and fun, allowing some good shots by Brian. I didn't take any photos that day, and Mark is still processing his shots, so pics to come later.

When we hit the flats, we proceeded to Sacramento in traffic. Dan decided that we should try a short-cut, picking up Rts 128 and 121 west of Sacramento. This added a few miles, but was a lot more fun. Especially once we made it past a convoy of three rented RVs slowly picking their way down the narrow mountain curves.

In need of a slightly more upscale repast, we stopped at E'toile at Domaine Chandon. A magnum of champagne for the table, and we feasted on everything from oysters to foie gras, tea-smoked duck to steak tartare. We slowly rolled our way back to the cars in the 95+ degree heat, and made our way to the coast, where the temps dropped by nearly 30 degrees.

Route 1 in California never fails to impress, whether slightly inland at Point Reyes National Seashore or right on the edge of the ocean at Mt Tamalpais. We bogged down a bit at Stinson Beach, due to the returning beachgoers, but our amusement was heightened by a middle-aged idiot in an early Porsche 911 Turbo. As we were approaching Stinson Beach, he was driving in the opposite direction. He saw our convoy and waved, and we returned the salute. But then as we came to a stop in the bumper-to-bumper traffic at Stinson, the Porsche came FLYING down past us - in the ONCOMING TRAFFIC LANE. Clearly, he turned around to get a better look. As he blew by us, an oncoming car forced him to lock up his wheels braking and diving into our stopped-traffic. When he realized that our line wasn't moving, he decides to make a u-turn (running his Porsche through the brush at the edge of the road), and then trying to impress us by spinning his wheels in 1st and 2nd gear. Surprisingly, this was the most idiotic thing that anyone had done in our presence in the 5000+ miles we drove, and it was a middle-aged guy in a Porsche 930, and not some teenager in a rice-mobile. Shows you what our prejudices are worth....

Once we made our way past Muir Woods, we dove towards the Golden Gate bridge. Alas, traffic from everyone trying to get back to SF on Sunday evening. Still, as we rolled through the big tunnel just North of the bridge, everyone wanted to hear the brutal sounds coming out of the 16M. Gleeful waves, thumbs-up and short horn beeps from nearby cars all called out for encores of the ripping canvas noise. Crossing the bridge, Brian shot the cars circling the 16M - suspect they'll turn out great.

In San Francisco, we debated whether to take the cars down the curvy section of Lombard street. Dan was game for it - I had done it in a Lamborghini Gallardo last year, so we knew it was possible (though it's intimidating as heck to pull up to the intersection and see nothing but sky out the windshield - no road beneath you, no pedestrians in front, nothing!).

But as we got to the 101/Lombard fork, the long line of cars awaiting their turn up then down the street dissuaded us, particularly as it was now evening and we had to make our way down to Monterey to meet up with the transporter with the McLaren, and pick up the keys for the rented house in Pebble Beach.

So we started bogeying down the 101, keenly aware of the CHP patrols and thinking about the distance covered thus far without a single police stop, much less a ticket. Coming down Rt 17, it felt like one last great run to us, with curves seemingly banked more than Daytona Speedway - folks here commute on this daily?!?

We rolled into Monterey late into the evening. We pulled the McLaren out of the truck, and all four supercars loped into the exclusive enclave that is Pebble Beach. The guard at the checkpoint just waved us through, and we finally parked at the end of our journey. Well, since it was nearly 11pm and we still didn't eat, we took the 612 out again for some take-out pizza and a 12 pack of beer. Sitting around the kitchen, eating, drinking and making toasts, we were exuberant, content and exhausted. 5000+ miles, no accidents, one minor fatality, and zero tickets. Woo-hoo!

The last post tomorrow will summarize the trip and our feelings towards it - as well as the potential major problem that faced us on Monday, and we ultimately resolved it. So stay tuned!