the grub street diet

Cookbook Author Alison Roman Stops for Predinner Dumplings

At Cervo’s. Photo: Noah Fecks

If you’ve ever cooked a recipe from Bon Appétit, it’s likely that Alison Roman created it. This week, the food writer and recipe developer — whose work also regularly appears in the New York Times — released her first book, Dining In. To celebrate, she feasted on Cheetos Puffs (“a superior Cheetos”) and Baskin-Robbins ice cream. She also enjoyed some meals out — at Cervo’s for head-on shrimp and Han Dynasty for her “favorite thing in all of New York.” Read all about it in this week’s Grub Street Diet.

Thursday, October 19
Let me just start off by saying that this is a highly unusual week to be documenting the things I eat. Either that, or I am in extreme denial about my diet and how I live my life.

This morning, I had to run an errand pretty early, so I left the house without breakfast. Afterward, I was level-seven hungry, so I grabbed a smoothie at Fuel Juice Bar on Bedford and Fulton, which is run by the sweetest women. This smoothie had peanut butter, almond milk, kale, spinach, and ginger. Because I was in Bed-Stuy, this smoothie cost me $5.09 with tax.

I headed home to pack up for a Bon Appétit dinner I was cooking in Greenpoint, to celebrate the release of my new book. In the book, I only have one cookie recipe, and it’s for these salted butter-chocolate-chunk shortbreads that are, in my opinion, way better than a chocolate-chip cookie. So I ate a bunch of cookie dough before 10 a.m., because you need to know if it’s good before you bake.

After, I crammed an apple into my mouth and dragged tote bags and boxes down four flights of stairs, all with the apple in my mouth. Why couldn’t I have saved the apple until I was in the car? I guess we will never know.

I got to the location of the party, this ridiculously chic and beautiful apartment where my friend Eva Goicochea lives. She has two small dogs and two Persian cats, which are shaved like lions, and they are very special. The rest of the day was spent prepping for dinner with my friends Lauren and Amiel, so it was a lot of snacking on weird things, like parsley stems, boiled potatoes (which I smeared with soft butter and sprinkled with flaky salt), pieces of blanched spinach, one boiled shrimp, and one of those shortbreads. Lilli Sherman, who was running the show for the evening, ordered us Xi’an Famous Foods, which I was supremely excited about, so I didn’t want to blow my appetite on anything else. We waited for the noodles and dumplings and continued to prep.

Hours, which felt like days, passed, and still no XFF. I was level-9.5 hungry at this point and had another cookie, and then some preserved lemon dip I was serving with the raw vegetables for the snack portion of the evening.

For the dinner, I wanted a kind of “steakhouse” vibe, so there was shrimp cocktail, my version of a wedge salad (no watery tomatoes, no blue cheese, lots of crispy bacon, herbs, and sour cream), creamed spinach, crispy smashed potatoes, and rib eyes with watermelon-radish toasts. I haven’t worked in restaurants in years and I’ve never been a caterer, so it got a little hectic for me, but Lilli, Lauren, and Amiel worked so hard to make sure everything went well, while I tried to manage my anxiety about people liking the food and making sure the creamed spinach was properly replenished.

I know what you’re wondering, and no, Xi’an Famous Foods never arrived, which means for dinner we had “meat snacks,” which are the ends and bits and fatty pieces from the steak that we don’t put out on the serving platter. And wine. So much wine.

For dessert, I made Key-lime pie, those shortbreads, and Pocky, which is my favorite thing and such a good party favor (I did not make the Pocky). Toward the end of the night, I think I must have had at least half of the pie to myself. I followed it up with amaro, because we all know it really works. (Does it work? IDK.)

Friday, October 20
I was a little hungover this morning, but more than that, I was just exhausted. The only cure for this combo is an extra-toasted everything bagel with cream cheese (I also take capers, onions, and cucumbers on mine), an iced coffee, and a lemon Spindrift. After that, I ran into the city to work at The Wing, which is where I do most of my office-type work (and shower after yoga). I had an insane amount of work to catch up on and emails to respond to, so I ended up having another coffee and skipping lunch, which is not good. I do not recommend this lifestyle.

On my way to the train, the farmers’ market was mostly closed, but there were a few people still packing up, including my guys at Martin’s Pretzels, who sold me a bag of pretzels for $2 and kept me from crashing completely. I also bought an apple because I was very hungry.

I went to Red Hook, where I was meeting up with some friends before we went to another friend’s house for a memorial gathering for someone I was very close to. We had a drink at Sunny’s, the best bar in New York, and walked over. Because we wanted to celebrate this person, we got some of her favorite things to eat, which were all seafood-based. Lobster rolls from Red Hook Lobster Pound (I got mine Connecticut style, which I did not know was a thing, but definitely prefer because I don’t love mayonnaise), and clams and oysters from Mermaid’s Garden, one of the best seafood stores in New York. It felt good to celebrate someone’s life this way.

Saturday, October 21
For breakfast, I had a flat white and half a scone from La Colombe, which are excellent, and I don’t even like scones that much. I still think flat whites have too much milk, but a cortado doesn’t have enough. Who can help me find the perfect coffee drink?

My sister and cousin were in town, so my boyfriend, Benjy, and I tried to show them the sights, which meant I took them to get their auras read followed by a massage in Chinatown. After the aura-reading (mine was mostly blue and pink with some yellow-green at the bottom) and before the massage, we got some Vietnamese snacks. Crispy spring rolls and a báhn xèo (Vietnamese rice crêpe filled with thinly sliced pork, bean sprouts, and shrimp) to share, which I ended up eating most of because it’s my absolute favorite thing. Lots of Vietnamese restaurants don’t make this, but Thai Son on Baxter does. Honestly, anything that is crispy that I can wrap in a giant lettuce leaf and dip into sambal and nuoc cham I would eat a million of.

Post-massage, I met up with my friend Sara Kramer who’s a very talented chef in Los Angeles. She co-owns Kismet with her partner Sarah Hymanson, and we are doing a cookbook dinner together in a few weeks at Madcapra, their falafel spot in Grand Central Market, so we met at Lalito for a drink to talk menu ideas and just generally catch up. Gerardo [Gonzalez, Lalito’s chef] was there, and even though we both had dinner plans later, he sent us this insanely good clam panzanella, with lots of briny, chewy clams, crispy croutons, and soft chayote squash. It was super delicious, and I wish I had two more bowls of it right now. He is the best and always takes care of me, which, in addition to the “Waiting for Tonight” bathroom, is why I always go there.

From there, I took my family to Han Dynasty, where my aunt and her husband also joined. Usually, it’s just my boyfriend and me, so I was especially excited to go with a group of six. We had dan-dan noodles, sesame noodles (not as good), spicy cucumbers, scallion pancakes, dry hot-pot chicken, chicken wings (the best), pea shoots, and what is my favorite thing in all of New York: dry-fry-style tofu. It’s soft tofu that’s deep-fried, so it’s super crispy on the outside and very custardy on the inside. It’s tossed with tons of chiles, black-bean paste, scallion, and garlic. It’s so fucking good, I go out of my way at least once a month just to order this dish. When I leave New York one day, this will be the thing I miss the most. You should also know that this dish is only good at the East Village location, not the UWS location. I learned that the hard way.

Afterward, we were pretty drained from an emotional weekend and decided to go home early. We bought ice cream (three flavors!) and went home to watch Ozark, which gives me strange nightmares, but I like it anyway. I ate the ice cream in bed, like a queen.

Sunday, October 22
While I’m certainly the better cook between us, Benjy still makes better scrambled eggs than I do, which is annoying, but I’ll let him have it. If he were watching me write this, he’d also want me to mention that he also makes better coffee and popcorn.

So he made us breakfast, which was sweet. Scrambled eggs, toasted She Wolf miche (his with butter and marmalade; mine with ricotta, salt, and Aleppo pepper), and some bacon that I had to use up. We don’t eat a ton of meat at home, and generally kale would be on our plates, too, but I didn’t have any. We are leaving town this weekend, and I’m trying to clean out the fridge, which has literally never happened.

After breakfast, I ate the last of my fermented pickles because, again, EVERYTHING’S GOTTA GO.

We took my sister and cousin to the Met, which means I had to leave Brooklyn, which I hate doing on the weekends, but seem to do every weekend. It was a terrifyingly warm, supremely perfect day, so we walked around Central Park first, and I got an ice-cream cone with sprinkles because I am 12.

After the Met, we rode Citi Bikes all around Central Park, and boy was I wearing the wrong outfit for that. After what felt like hours on the bike, I was, of course, famished, so we split a piece of pizza.

For dinner, all I wanted was a skillet of wilted kale with lemon because this weekend has been insane, but it was not in the cards. We headed downtown to meet up with some more friends and family for Curry-Ya, but we needed a break for a second, so Benjy and I got drinks at Dante, which I really think is cute and charming. After, we headed to the East Village where we ate fried pork cutlets with a side of Japanese gravy, which I am still confused by. It was good, but not my fave thing on 10th Street, if we are being honest.

Monday, October 23
In the morning, I went to Extra Crispy HQ to shoot a little Facebook Live, where I made some “Avocado with Everything,” from my book, which is basically a halved avocado with everything seed mix on top. Sometimes I put it on a Wasa cracker, but more often than not, I’m just eating it out of it’s skin like a little avocado bowl. It’s kind of silly, but really great.

After I left, I thought I’d take advantage of the Industry City food-court thing and try a new dumpling spot. I ordered pork dumplings and they were … raw inside. I’ll eat some weird stuff, and I like my pork rare, but these were straight up raw, as in definitely not cooked at all. I returned them (I was nice about it!) and went back home to work, thinking how funny it would be if I got food poisoning the day my cookbook comes out.

I was a little freaked out from the pork-dumpling incident of 2017, and I kept convincing myself that I had food poisoning, so in preparing for the worst, I had popcorn for lunch. I pop mine in coconut oil and sprinkle it with nutritional yeast and Aleppo pepper, and maybe too much salt. It’s perfect.

By the time evening rolled around, I was fairly confident that I did not have food poisoning. Huge victory. My friends threw me a pizza party to celebrate the release of the book, which was so special. Benjy ordered a bunch of different pies from Brooklyn Pizza Crew on Nostrand, which is pretty good old-school-style pizza. He also got a case of great wine from my favorite wine shop, Discovery. When I found out, I became very emotional, since I knew it was really out of his way and he only went because he knows it’s my favorite, and my friend Russ said, “Get you someone who looks at you the way Alison looked at Benjy when she found out he went to Discovery.”

Greta was hosting, and she made a lovely dip station with hummus doctored with preserved lemon and walnuts, yogurt with salsa verde stirred into it, and sour-cream-and-onion dip from a pop-top can, as God intended. She also bought a box of Cheez-Its and a giant bag of Cheetos Puffs (a superior Cheetos). Emily made an Aperol Spritz station with an impressive citrus arrangement, and then brought out several pints of Baskin-Robbins mint-and-chip (mint-chip?) ice cream, the best kind of ice cream. It was a real high-low evening, which is exactly how I like it, and which made me feel so loved and seen. I love my friends. Thanks, friends!

Tuesday, October 24
This was a very exciting day, because this book I’ve been talking about all week finally came out. I woke up and drank a ton of coffee and worked from home, which meant I didn’t leave the bed. I actually feel most productive in bed. It’s not a laziness thing; it’s a comfort thing. No pants, all focus.

I had some more coffee and then took a break to clean up a shelf that had collapsed in my kitchen, the one that held all of my soy sauce, vinegars, glass jars of dried chiles, bitters, honey, and basically anything that comes in a glass container. It was a fun and special way to spend my morning. Needless to say, my kitchen was kind of out of commission, so I didn’t make myself any breakfast.

Later, after running some errands in the city, I met Benjy at Sky Ting for yoga. Even though we had dinner plans, we stopped at Xi’an Famous Foods afterward to split an order of lamb dumplings because we were both so hungry. The yoga class was hard, okay? Plus, ever since my Xi’an Famous Foods never arrived, I had been thinking about it all week. I was getting mine.

We walked over to Cervo’s for dinner, for wine, clams, head-on prawns, and good vibes. I’m there often, almost as much as Hart’s, their sister restaurant. The people at both places are just solid gold, and they make really, really great food.

We had oysters, head-on shrimp, a really nice radicchio salad, clams in vinho verde (like everyone else on your Instagram feed, I went to Portugal this year and these are the closest I’ve had to the clams I had in Portugal), braised squid with black beans, and the chicken skewers with yogurt and onions. And these fried wax beans with tonnato and fresh horseradish — they looked like French fries and were insanely good. It was a lot of food, so we didn’t have room for dessert (something I rarely order anyway). I would say we ordered too much, but I think we all know it was the predinner dumplings. Worth it, though.

Cookbook Author Alison Roman’s Grub Street Diet