Read, Solve, Eat… Repeat! A Gastronaut Scavenger Hunt

If I were to create a hierarchy of things that make this Blue Collar Foodie smile wider than the Cheshire Cat on Molly, food would be damn near at the apex of this mountain of amazeballs and competition would not be too far behind.  Relax, my wife, my family, the Sunday Sippers, my furry babies, and all that other sappy crap are on that short list too, but this is a food blog and not the Hallmark Channel so how about we focus on the first two and try not to catch the feels.

We all know I love food, and shit you do too if you are reading this inane excuse to stare at food porn, but I feel I should explain my need, no my desire to compete.  I am a recovering jock and I go to meetings, in the form of playing all sorts of sports that is, about once a week for 10 months out of the year.  However, my sickness goes much deeper, I will debate a topic at a bar that I don’t even care about, shit, sometimes I will take the side of an argument that I oppose simply to see if I can win.  It is also not rare at all that a night of drinking ends in a push-up contest, race, or some cockamamie made up game.  During one particular relapse, I created a game called dreidel wars and battled my friends for hours, and I am quite ashamed about how intense our “game” got.  Let’s just say that Kat has banned D-Dub during the holiday season.

Normally my food obsession and my aspiration to compete have to take turns controlling my easily distracted frontal lobe.  That is until my favorite secret adventurous eating society, the Gastronauts, teamed up with the remarkable game designers at Interactive Escapes to create a no holds barred food focused Scavenger Hunt.

Gastronauts_LOGO

Yes, I understand that since I used a hyperlink to point you in the direction of the “Secret Adventurous Eating Society,” I am a member of, it means that this particular group is not as secret as I may have led you to believe.  However, it sounds so much cooler to be a member of a secret society, I mean I can place a link to the Freemasons here, it does not mean that they don’t control the world of finance, and I could link to Scientology as well.   I won’t because I ain’t trying to be on that list, that list gets you murked.  Those bitches be crazy.  Can’t you guys just let me have this one?  No?  Fine, I hate you internets, I truly do.

Now that you have crushed my dreams, I guess I can move on to discussing the epic scavenger hunt Kat, our friend Alex, and I participated in on Saturday November 5, 2016 in Jackson Heights, NY.  First off, I think I would do you guys a disservice to explain each and every aspect of this highly interactive adventure that was cooked up by the ingenious minds of the dynamic duo, that I have deemed the Gastro Game Gangstas A.K.A. Curtiss and Prescott.

Instead of walking you through the entire game and boring you with my furious verbosity I will simply summarize the plot of the game and then move onto the all-important food porn.  Yes, there was a plot, and it was both well thought out and executed.  This wasn’t one of those bullshit scavenger hunts where you have to find 10 items that were haphazardly placed throughout the city for no other reason but because the game master said so.

MeetUp

When we arrived at the arranged meeting place we were divided into teams and informed that we all had a rougher night than Hillary on November 8th.  Apparently, we all attended a bachelor party celebration and we not only lost our wallets but we lost our dignity as well.  The good news was the MTA found our wallets, however the bad news was we lost The Groom!!!  (Cue overly dramatic music and fake gasp!)

Team Ela!!!

Team Ela!!!

Our mission was to shake our hangover off, retrace our steps, and get the groom to his wedding.  Easy, peasy, Right?  Wrong!  Due to us drinking heavier than Bill Murray after the Cubbies spanked the Tribe in Game 7, we remember very little from the previous night, making this task slightly harder than one would expect.

Game On!!!

Game On!!!

We were instructed not to open our provided wallets until we entered the Subway and began our journey to Jackson Heights.  Moments later we found ourselves on a Subway Car feverishly searching our wallet for clues that needed to be solved, and there were quite a few.  The game was a foot and we were eager to destroy the competition, Highlander style!  THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE!!!

We solved the first puzzle almost immediately which was a hint to access the provided twitter account that Prescott and Curtiss had created specifically for the game.  From there we made some educated guesses on what the other clues could potentially mean, studied the boundary map, inspected every crevasse of our wallet and scoured every scrap of paper for information.  By the time we arrived at our station the five of us, emerged as Team Ela, our new found identity and we raced to our first stop.

Team Ela Unite!

Team Ela Unite!

The clues that were given were designed so as they could not simply be googled, however throughout the game we used the internet quite a bit.  Maps to find our way around, IMDB, Twitter, and of course the google machine to assist whenever it was needed.  That was the magic of the game play and one of the reasons I loved this hunt so much.  I was extremely impressed on how Interactive Escapes was able to create challenging, yet attainable goals that were not completely ruined by the internets, if anything allowing the use of a Smart Phone only enhanced the game.

Paan is chewed for its stimulant and psychoactive effects, not for its wonderful flavor. Why you ask? Because it does not have a wonderful flavor...

Paan is chewed for its stimulant and psychoactive effects, not for its wonderful flavor. Why you ask? Because it does not have a wonderful flavor…

The mechanics of the game were pretty straightforward, solve a clue, go to that establishment, eat the dish that you are supposed to order, and Tweet a photo of your team eating the yumminess.  Since food is the source of miraculous healing, once the game masters saw this Tweet they would send you a “memory”, which would be used later to locate the final meeting spot.  The more puzzles you solved the more food you ate, and this was no ordinary food either.  We rocked dumplings, momos, brains, booze, and more!

One of the clues lead us to a spa where Kat had to get a Henna tattoo in order to solve the puzzle.

One of the clues lead us to a spa where Kat had to get a Henna tattoo in order to solve the puzzle.

The scavenger hunt itself would have been fun but the addition of the food added to the overall enjoyment immensely.  Not to mention, the level of competition was fierce and contagious.  As we ran up and down city blocks, hectically trying to solve the clues that were being tweeted to us via Direct Message, we filled our bellies with the amazing food that this specific neighborhood of Jackson Heights had to offer.

If these Momos are wrong, I don't want to be right!

If these Momos are wrong, I don’t want to be right!

As we stuffed our talking holes with these delightful morsels we followed the Twitter Feed and hoped that we would be victorious.  We fought hard and earned a respectable amount of points but due to a mistake on our part, waiting 25 minutes for the wrong Momo’s, early in the game, we failed to take the crown.  We did however come in third and were the only team to find the secret Easter Egg that Curtiss and Prescott had placed in the game grid.

MmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmOMO!!!!!

MmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmOMO!!!!!

I implore all of you that are reading this to bug, pester, annoy, and harass Curtiss and Prescott to set another one of these up, and soon!  Not only do I think this a must for any Foodie in the NYC Area, I really want to do this again, but this time I want to WIN!  Thanks for the heaping spoonful of Awesome Sauce Curtiss and Prescott, can’t wait until next time!

Of Course there was beer too!!!

Even theme specific beer made an appearance!

P.S. If you are into scavenger hunts but not into leaving the house, check out Interactive Escapes Free Online Scavenger Hunt.  Only one person has beaten it so far, but I am on my way!  Good Luck, it can be infuriating.

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The Gastronauts + The Blue Collar Foodie = Food Porn²

Gastronauts_LOGOIf you missed my first post about the epic adventure eating club known as the Gastronauts, you may not be aware that I am a super fan of this organization. However, if you have ever visited my page, you are well aware that I love food porn almost as much as Luis Suarez likes to do his best Mike Tyson impersonation while on the pitch.

Since each and every Gastronaut event contains more food porn than a sixteen year old’s Reddit feed has actual porn, I decided that it was my duty to not only take pictures of these epicurean gatherings but share them with all of you. This post will contain the last two gastronomic happenings that I attended with this epicurean society but from this point on I will make sure to post each on separately as to not overload you with foodtography.

Back in May the Gastronauts invited its members to join them at Phayul located at 37-65 74th Street in Jackson Heights for a Tibetan feast. The menu for this event was intriguing because the descriptions were very vague, unlike the other meals that I have attended. Unsure and slightly nervous, my friend and I ascended the stairs that lead to Phayul and placed ourselves at the mercy of the Chef.

A Dinner at Phayul

Churu
Tibetan cheese soup

 Chele Khatsa

Fried beef spicy tongue

 Gyuma Ngoe Ma

Fried blood sausage with onions & green chilli

 Dropa Khatsa

Tibetan style beef tripe

Fried Momos

Tibetan Dumplings

Tibetan Spices

The first thing to hit our table was a caddy that held two vessels which contained two different, slightly scary, spice concoctions that caused some minor whispering throughout our table. All of us were curious, but we were also a little apprehensive since the predominant color of these potions were bright red, and we were under the assumptions that they were going to either kill us or destroy our taste buds for the upcoming meal. Eventually, one of us dipped our fork into the evil looking spices and tasted what turned out to be an extremely pleasant sauce with a subtle yet lingering heat that was not offensive at all.

Cheesesoup

Next up in this food orgy was the Churu, or Tibetan Cheese Soup. Steph, my fellow gourmand for the evening, and I discussed this dish in particular length during the arduous ride from New Jersey during rush hour. Both of us were somewhat uneasy about eating this dish because the internets was pretty damn useless when we tried to find out what this cheese soup was all about.   It turns out that we were concerned over nothing and not only was this soup straight up amazeballs, we now crave it like Piper Chapman yearns for affection.

Beef Tongue

After conquering our first, seconds, and thirds of the Cheese Soup, Steph and I were ready for the Chele Khatsa or the fried spicy beef tongue. This dish not only looked breathtakingly beautiful, but it tasted absolutely amazing.

Beef Tongue Close

The combination of the fresh vegetables and the fried beef tongue created a sublime texture contrast and the flavor of the dish was superb. I added a small amount of the aforementioned hot sauce and savored each and every bite.

Beef Action Shot

Relax food police, before I ate the last bite, I asked my fellow table mates. I know that when eating family style there are certain rules one must follow. Unless of course you are eating with your actual family, then to hell with the rules and grab as many pieces of yummy you can before your gigantic Uncle Morty eats all the Christmas Lo Mein.

Blood Sausage

The next dish to arrive was the Gyuma Ngoe Ma or the fried blood sausage with onions & green chilies. I am pretty sure the actual translation for this Tibetan dish is THE BEST BLOOD SAUSAGE YOU WILL EVER FUCKING EAT, EVER, but since that is not politically correct, they go with the one above.

Blood Sausage Close

I am a huge fan of blood sausage, and I must say that everything that I ever knew about blood sausage was absolutely wrong and I am an idiot for every thinking it. I was under the impression that there was always a slight metallic, iron-esque flavor to blood sausage, and this was just a minor imperfection that one who eats this delectable treat had to accept and get used to.

Blood Sausage With Pepper

This blood sausage did not taste metallic at all; it had every single wonderful quality that I crave in blood sausage and none of the flaws. It seemed like witchcraft to me at the time, and now that I think of it, it still does. Furthermore, now that I wrote this paragraph, I want some right the hell now!

Spicy Tripe

Following the blood sausage was not going to be easy for any dish, but none the less the Dropa Khatsa or Tibetan style beef tripe entered the eating arena. Since the supposed death sauce was less killy than I thought it would be, I disregarded the bright red flakes and rosy glistening hue that appeared on the plate in front of us. That my friends, I can tell you, was not the best idea. Don’t get it twisted, this dish tasted amazing, but I should have taken a much smaller first bite. The heat slowly built in my mouth and set up camp on my tongue. Being a seasoned, see what I did there, professional with spicy foods; I did not go for my water or my beer and just waited the heat out as it slowly dissipated. I then of course ate more of the tripe because I can’t resist a nice kick in the taste buds.

Veggie Momo

Just when we thought we couldn’t eat one more bite of this delightful Tibetan fare, out came the PARADE OF MOMOS! And what a parade it was!

Veggie Momo Close Up

Momos are basically Tibetan dumplings, and they come with a variety of fillings. The first one we got to eat was the vegetable Momo. These were filled with a combination of potato and diced veggies. The crispy and crunchy exterior was the perfect companion to the soft center that was bursting with flavor.

Beef Momo

Beef Momos graced our table next and, in my opinion, were the best of the Grand Momo Show! If there was a momo Oscar, these tasty bastards would win hands down, and they would not even play that music in the background during his acceptance speech to kick him off the stage.   Beef momo gets all the time he wants!

Beef Momo

Hiding in the center of these pan fried pouches of dough was a succulent and flavorful morsel of meaty goodness that I could not get enough of.

I remember a time that I was not a Gastronaut, I remember a time that I was not fortunate enough to share in the experience of eating these astonishing meals, I remember those times, and I do not like them. The Gastronauts should be commended for allowing foodies like us to eat, drink, and take a thousand pictures of food without all the normies in the world staring at us with discontent and dejection. So, join the Gastronauts and in the immortal words of the sideshow performers in the movie Freaks, become, One of us! Gooble Gobble, one of us!    

A Lebanese Dinner by Naji

Kibbeh Nayeh

Raw Goat Pate

Lamb brains and Lamb testicles

Brain Salad and Testicles Served With Hummus

Beef Tongue Fatteh

Toasted Lebanese flat breads mixed with a garlic yogurt sauce and Beef Tongue

Moughrabiyeh

Large-grain couscous, served with liver

Ashta dessert

Prepared similarly to sweetened cottage cheese, and topped with fruit and crushed pistachio.

After partaking in the awesome sauce that was the Tibetan dinner you drooled over above, I was yearning for the next Gastronaut event. I was just hoping that it would work with my hectic schedule of work, writing, and studying.   Lucky for me, and I guess in turn lucky for you, I was available on the night in question and without hesitation reserved two seats for the Lebanese Dinner at Naji located at 160 Havemeyer Street in Brooklyn, NY 11211.

I may have agreed to attend without hesitation but upon further research, like reading the entire email, I was able to find my uncertainty quite easily. I neglected to read the menu for the evening and missed the eating testicles portion of the event. I had never eaten testicles before and I was concerned about the texture, the flavor, the potentiality of liquid bursting from the center as I bit into them, and a myriad of other orb related issues.

With that said, my adventure eating partner, Steph and I embarked on our journey to Brooklyn to eat the testicles and brains of a lamb that I assure you is much less happy to be attending this dinner party than we were.

Lebanese Side Dishes

Our wonderful and exceptionally helpful waitress delivered a plate of side dishes that were to be consumed with the meal as per the instructions of the chef. Steph and I both agreed that we are always a fan of instructions when eating a cultures food that we are not familiar with, so we were happy to hear that we would be guided on when and how to eat the chef’s preparations.

The Kibbeh Nayeh

The Kibbeh Nayeh, or Lebanese Goat Tartar, is considered the national dish on Lebanon and is served at feasts and festivals throughout the year. When this dish hit the table, everyone was a little nervous about eating raw meat because we are Americans, and we all know that eating raw meat could potentially cause the outbreak of zombies thus destroying the world as we know it. Although, we decided that when in a Lebanese Restaurant in Hipster Ground zero, we should all act like a Lebanese Hipster… That does not work at all. I got it when in a… Never mind, you get the point.

Plated Goat

We ate the raw meat according to the instructions that were explained to us by the staff and guess what? No Zombies! I know, I was slightly disappointed too. To be honest though, I was way too far from my house and wife for a zombie invasion to work out well for me anyway, so I was okay with the lack of brain eating, for now anyway, according to the menu.

Goat With Beer

The instructions of how to eat The Kibbeh Nayeh were fairly simple and created a lovely hand held flatbread of tastiness. We were to spread the raw goat on a plate and top it with the most amazing garlic spread I have ever eaten and fresh mint leaves. Then you take the concoction, place it on a pita, and take a bite which is followed by a piece of either an onion or a scallion. Needless to say, this did not help our breaths at all, unless eating raw goat causes vampires instead of zombies, then the whole garlic breath thing might work out for us.

Brain Salad

Perhaps raw goat does turn us into zombies because all of us were pretty freaking excited to eat us some brains. Damn Center for Disease Control, being right all the damn time, what the hell? Although, it might have been the fact that the brains smelled absolutely incredible and did not look too shabby either that caused the mental salivation.  The aroma of this lamb lobe was hard to place at first until we tasted it. There was a distinct cinnamon or garam masala flavor that was tremendously enjoyable. The texture could have been a problem, considering brains tend to be as appetizing as lumpy cottage cheese in the mouth feel category, but the chef expertly prepared this dish as a salad with a slightly peppery salad greens that created a flawless union of taste, texture, and spice.

Lamb Testicles

The moment of truth was upon us. Apparently, what separates the men from the boys in the world of food happens to be balls, which is pretty accurate in the real world too. In this case though, these balls were going to be in my mouth instead of between my legs. Go ahead… Get it out… I realize that I just typed “balls” and “in my mouth” in the same sentence. I tried to get around it, but there was no way to avoid it. When you are done laughing out loud, I will see you in the next paragraph.Lamb Balls

I summoned all of my culinary testicular fortitude and stabbed a lamb testicle with my fork and placed it on my plate with a small amount of hummus, a pomegranate seed or five, and some greens and took the requisite photos. This time I did not mind the delay, I sort of needed it to psyche myself up for what was about to happen.

Balls on a Plate

With one swift motion, I brought a small piece of these rather large lamb testicles to my mouth and ate it. I should know by now that if the Gastronauts feed me something, it is going to taste stupid good, and these spheres were not the exception to this rule. Not only were these testicles not bad, they were freaking good! The texture was nothing like I thought it would be and resembled a somewhat undercooked meatball and much to my delight; no liquid of any kind was released from the center of these balls of yummy. I ate several more after cleaning this plate, and I would definitely order them again.

Beef Tounge

With a belly full of testicles…Dammit… Go ahead… The next course arrived at our table. I was impressed with the presentation of the beef tongue fatteh because the colors were spectacular. I mean seriously, this vibrant brew looked like it should be in an art museum, not in a bowl about to be consumed. I fought off my tablemates as long as I could to make sure I got the perfect photos before it was devoured.

Tongue Close Up

This dish’s praise was magnified because it contained one of my favorite “bizarre” meats, beef tongue. Not to mention the fact that the garlic yogurt broth it was swimming in tasted outstanding and was full of tasty goodness.

Couscous

If the fatteh was not enough to get your taste buds dancing like Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show, the Chef also sent out a serving of Moughrabiyeh, which is large grain couscous. He decided to add a little liver to the dish to add a little Gastronaut style to the mix which only added to the already flavorful combination of the spices that were having a party in the bowl.

Ashta

For dessert, we were given Ashta, which was described as a dessert that has a sweet and aromatic flavor which is often compared to the atemoya fruit. This would have been a great description, if I knew what the hell an atemoya fruit was. The good news was that we were about to find out. I thoroughly enjoyed this dessert; I appreciated the subtle melon like taste combined with the small amount of crushed pistachios that were placed on top of this pudding like dessert.

I really cannot express to you how much fun it is to hop on board one of these culinary expeditions and eat your way into the stratosphere with the Gastronauts. There really are no words to describe the feeling of apprehension, realization, and relaxation that occur at these tables, it truly is something special.