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Top 5 Tastes: International and Carnivorous

Living in New York, I often take for granted the wealth of international cuisines available to me on a daily basis. Last week, I indulged in offerings from many corners of the globe, from Mexico to France, China to Spain.
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Living in New York, I often take for granted the wealth of international cuisines available to me on a daily basis. Last week, I indulged in offerings from many corners of the globe, from Mexico to France, China to Spain. My carnivorous carnal desire was sated, with duck, raw beef, steak and chorizo -- all in one week! Behold, my globe trotting meat-friendly picks...

1. Rotisserie Duck Lunch - Momofuku Ssam Bar (New York, NY)

Having a flexible schedule this summer allows for many lunchtime jaunts around the neighborhood. One of my go-to midday repasts is the rotisserie duck lunch set at Momofuku Ssam Bar. While on the pricier side for a casual noontime nosh ($20), the prix-fixe portions are immense and the set includes a side vegetable dish. Although I'm a seasoned Peking Duck consumer, I made many failed attempts to delicately prepare (and consume) the dish, which involved wrapping rice, duck and chive pancakes in a lettuce leaf (or does the pancake enclose the lettuce...?) Invariably, I emerged from the battle of duck dynasty with my hands, face and clothing bedecked in Hoisin sauce. Definitely first date material. No matter how sloppily I prepared the roll though, each bite was a heavenly departure into a world of supple smoky duck, rice saturated with lashings of sweet Hoisin sauce, and crisp Boston lettuce. Some bites involved a scrap of chive pancake, but many did not. For once, I had to admit defeat, watching sadly as my membership to the clean plate club was revoked.

2. Steak Quesadilla - La Superior (Brooklyn, NY)

After a frustrating half hour affirming that no, my bed would not in fact fit into this Craigslist sublet, a friend and I were ready for the lifted spirits that only tequila and tortillas can achieve. After judiciously ordering only two tacos apiece (they come individually) it only felt right to add a deep fried, cheese-and-crema-slathered item to the mix. Served "street style", La Superior's quesadillas are more reminiscent of an empanada--a crescent of flaky dough anointed with sauces and packed to the gills with flavorful filling. We ordered the steak version, and ate our feelings-- I mean the dish--rapidly and enthusiastically. Crumbles of mild queso fresco and sour cream melted slightly into the dough; the simple creaminess tempering the richly pungent meat inside. Thanks to the deep fried meaty goodness, bracing sips of tamarind margarita and gentle sounds of hipster date night, we emerged feeling revived and reassured.

3. Eggplant in Black Bean Sauce - Pig Heaven (New York, NY)

For me, there is much joy in familiar anticipation whether it involves knowing the next line of The Big Lebowski, the following interlude in TLC's CrazySexyCool , or the certainty of more conquests in Anthony Weiner's online repertoire. I feel the same about Chinese eggplant in black bean sauce; my mouth is invariably able to taste the dish before it arrives on the table. While Pig Heaven advertised only "home-style eggplant", the waitress assured me I could request black bean sauce, prompting me to order off the menu like the bawss that I am. When the dish arrived, shrouded in a steamy cloud of aromatic soy, I dove in immediately and was quickly reprimanded for my greed with a scalded tongue. Once the cloak of sweltering heat dissipated, I returned with an unflinching appetite. Bright purple flesh glistened and glowed, swirling in a pool of viscous brown sauce, with small black beans scattered throughout. The eggplant was tender, redolent with flavors of that great Chinese triumvirate of soy, garlic and ginger. The occasional black bean was a welcome addition, pleasantly grainy when chewed, with an unmistakably earthy flavor. Unlike Donny, I was completely in my element.

4. Steak Tartare - Do or Dine (Brooklyn, NY)
If the idea of raw steak leaves you squeamish, consuming a cow-shaped preparation might not entice you. For me, this whimsical presentation of steak tartare--one of my favorite dishes, only enhanced my enjoyment. Served with various accoutrements, including a lightning bolt shaped toast and caper berries, the classic dish was flawless. Smooth silky egg yolk and chips of crunchy acidic cornichons enhanced the luscious raw meat, its velveteen texture perfectly countered with the slightly crusty toast. We scooped up portion after portion, watching the bovine shape morph from headless, to legless creature until it was simply a collection of saucy streaks with only a few errant pink squiggles as a reminder of minutes earlier. Luckily, we still had the foie gras doughnut to look forward to.

5. Fideos - Casa Mono (New York, NY)
After months of salivating over the menu, I knew the time for my inaugural Casa Mono visit was nigh. We nestled into our corner table fortified by wine, octopus and chorizo from Bar Jamon next door. Before opening the menu, I knew we'd order Fideos, a traditional Spanish noodle dish, having been taunted by its picture on the restaurants' website. In a rimmed earthenware "cazuela", the Fideos arrived, its unique appearance enticing me even more. Atop a layer of Manila clams, each shell open just enough to display the tasty contents within, lay a spiky Fideo crown, the short thin noodles bespangled with jewels of chorizo, each strand shining with a coating of melted porcine fat. A sultry mass of aioli added a final flourish to the dish, perching high above the surf and turf kingdom below. The succulent fruits de mer were a briny antidote to the rich fatty sausage, and their consumption with the noodles introduced linguine vongole's swarthy Catalunyan cousin. Luxurious dabs of garlicky aioli brought the dish to its sinful extremes leaving me powerless in its artery-clogging presence. I'd brave the Spanish inquisition for another bite.