Friday, September 29, 2006

Konichiwa B!tches!!!!

It's field trip time again!!! The man like Mike from Satsko told me about the Joy of Sake event. It's the largest sake tasting outside of Japan & as a lover of all things alcoholic, I had to attend. I was still recovering from my 7B/Mercadito/Satsko's/Joe's Bar/JP Wardes crawl from the night before, but after a LOT of coffee, I met Teddy over at Bleeker Street Bar. After 1 Blue Moon, we headed over to the Puck building.

I'll admit that the event was sensory overload. Loads of Sake & Beautiful women everywhere... As soon as we entered, Teddy made a beeline for the Daiginjo's - the most polished of all of the sakes on display. There were somewhere near 250 sakes & I think we managed to taste about 70 of them. I still cannot believe how from something as simple as a kernel of rice, such subtle flavors can be extracted. No 2 sakes tasted the same.

Besides all of the totty, there were a few culinary heavyweights there. Wylie Dufresne (the mad chemist of wd-50) & (as T-Diddy mentioned) Akiko Katayama of Iron Chef & Food & Wine fame were enjoying the sake overload. While not trying to toot my own horn, Teddy & I seemed to be quite a hit at the event. We were interviewed by Rueters & had our pictures snapped on numerous ocassions.

The food selection was excellent as well. There was seared beef from EN which won me over, but the ginger marinated Oysters from my favorite hotspot, Bond Street soon took first place. I held down the fort at the bar while Teddy made frequent trips to each restaurant's table - double-fisting culinary delights & shuttling them back to me - he's a scholar & a gentleman. We also had Miso infused egg yolks on the 7th floor. Crazy delicious!

We hit up the 7th floor for sakes that are not available in the US. Again - I've never met a sake I don't like - but there were some excellent sakes there. I was disappointed that there was only 1 nigori there. Teddy & I had scoured the entire joint, but that one as the only one we could find. Needless to say, we sat in front of the damn think & polished it off. Good to the last drop!

With Sake on the brain & after Teddy was threatened with incarceration by a Puck Building rent-a-cop, we headed over to Satsko's for Sake bombs, Nigori & hangovers.

Teddy departed & I stayed @ Satsko's with Alesha for more drink-related stupidity. It was an excellent night, but at the end I was shattered.

The search for nigori

Since Jason introduced me to the mighty Satsko, I have been indulging in the pleasures of drinking Sake. What better way to immerse myself in the stuff than to attend Joy of Sake , the largest sake event held outside Japan. We were promised around 300 sakes in peak condition, and a splendid array of appetizers prepared by outstanding restaurants. And that's exactly what we got. The Puck Building, where it was held, is a great venue for such an event - big, bright, lots of air. There were 40-feet tables groaning under the weight of fine daiginjo, ginjo and junmai sakes. We didn't waste any time in getting down to business, we registered, grabbed our glasses and rushed to the nearest sake vendor. Jason was pleasantly surprised at the quality and quantity of young ladies, who added extra sparkle to an already promising event.

The first table contained daiginjos, which I understand are the finest sakes around. The we switched to ginjo. The differences in 'quality' and appearance are down to the way the rice grains are prepared, some are polished until half the grain has dissapeared. The main reason is the get the husk off, which impairs the finished product. Anyway the ginjos were good too. I wish I could recall the names of my favourites, but I can't. We also sampled junmais, honjozos and others. There was one nigori (unfltered) sake which people were VERY interested in...I must say I do like the nigoris, they just seem to be more 'rounded' than filtered. Everybody who we spoke to asked where this particular specimen was as they had missed it too. It seemed to have this pull on people...

To punctuate our drinking, we hunted around a few of the tables laden with food from Japanese restaurants for some tasty morsels, bumping into Akiko Katayama, one of the judges from Iron Chef, as we did so. She wished us a pleasant evening. We found delicious spoonfuls of octopus salad from wd-50's Wylie Dufresne, who also looked like he was enjoying the evening, pork shoulder skewers, oysters from Bond Street Sushi, fried rice balls from oms/B. It was all fresh and delicious, and really helped stabilise the belly for the sake onslaught that was about to begin. I can't remember eveything, apart from sampling around 80-90 different sakes, and meeting some interesting people. It's a great drink, and if it was the intention of the Sake Association to boost the profile of Japan's favourite quaff, they did a bloody good job. I really have a taste for it now, and I'll be winkling out the best sakes when I go to that great liquor store on Madison and 37th, instead of reaching for the largest bottle as usual.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


I had the pleasure of going to Mercadito (179 Avenue B) tonight with Dan the Man & Super Sexy Missy. It was an impromptu visit, so unfortunately, I didn't have my camera. We started with a cheese & mushroom dip (so-so), then moved on to the tacos; Talapia, Skirt Steak & finally Tuna & Pineapple. The first 2 were awesome, but I really wasn't feeling the Tuna tacos...

The drinks were amazing! I started with a beer, then moved onto a Mango Mojito. I was surprised that they don't make Caipirinhas, but I enjoyed my drink. We ended the night with a delicious flan & Cafe Con Leche all around. I give Mercadito 2 thumbs up; the food is amazing & the service was very good. My only gripe is that the place is so small - I've been trying to go there for months now, only to be told that there's a 40+ minute wait... I guess we lucked out tonight.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Alain Ducasse - a TC field trip

I agree wth Jason, it's awe inspiring to walk into a place like Ducasse NY. I really did have butterflies in the tummy as I heaved back the large door and walked into the 'drawing room' where we had a 'cheeky one' before the main proceedings. The dining room was incredible, we were indeed surrounded by beautiful things, dripping with Viennese or Roman opulence. This room reeked of quality, all shining sliverware and Czech crystal. I plumped for a slightly different meanu to Ace, he had the 'Aquatic Flavours' taster, while I went for the Summer Flavours menu:

-Mosaic of selected vegetables, crisp and tender, natural dressing
-Carpaccio of Hawaiian escolar, avocado and Granny Smith kaffir lime, Caspian Sea Golden Osetra caviar
-Duck foie gras terrine, white peach chutney/salad basil leaves, toasted baguette
-Maine lobster, steamed haricots verts, sugar snap/English peas, fava beans
-Roasted and glazed milk fed veal, wild mushrooms/asparagus "fricassée"
-Cheese, perfectly matured
-Napoleon og griottes, kirsch ice cream, chocolate chantilly

I couldn't fault anything...I particularly enjoyed the foie gras and the veal (being the land-lubbing carnivore I am) but the escolar was really good, as was the lobster, if slightly overcooked. I had a fabulous slab of Stilton afterwards, (I've eaten this since I was a kid in England) and dessert, coffee.

We both decided to let the knowledgable sommelier take us on a journey of wine (after all, the wine menu was quite daunting and not my area of expertise if I was honest) and he did so with gusto. He described the wine, it's virtues, it's relevance to what we were eating etc, and this was one of the best aspects fo the meal. The service is wonderful, not snobbish in any way, and even though we were paying 'through the nose' to get into this place, I loved it. A great experience nonetheless, and one which I may never be able to afford to do again!

As is tradition, the evening ended at Satsko with some prohibited sake bombs.

Alain Ducasse - A TC field trip

Teddy & I had the pleasure of taking the second Thursday Club field trip as Adam was away on Thursday. We jumped into the deep end & selected Alain Ducasse (155 West 58th street) as the destination of choice. After getting Suited & Booted, we met at Whiskey Park (100 Central Park South) for a martini as we had some time to kill before our 7pm reservation.

I'll admit that I had goose bumps as we entered the Essex House as I was looking forward to an excellent night. We sat in the lounge for a bit to compose ourselves for the culinary onslaught that was to come. I had a Knob Creek on the rocks, Teddy had a G&T.

Cyril, the Maitre D' sat us soon afterwards. I was taken aback by the decor, beautiful old world. I went for the 7 course Aquatic Tasting Menu with the International wine pairing:

- Sea urchin “à la royale”

- Chilled Scottish langoustines, fresh almond milk, crunchy vegetables

- Carpaccio of Hawaiian escolar, kaffir lime, avocado and Granny SmithBlack Sea 000 Beluga

- Razor/Manila clams, cuttlefish, periwinkles, warm salad pasta impression, shellfish jus

- Maine lobster, steamed haricots verts, sugar snap/English peas, fava beans

- Cheese, perfectly matured
(unfortunately, no pictures)

- Strawberry composition: granité/jam/sliced, Tonka bean sorbet

I enjoyed every dish, but I was somewhat disappointed with the lobster, it was very chewy. The Sea urchin was my favorite dish - there is no way to describe how good it was. Paired with a Riesling - sheer perfection!

Our sommelier; Thomas (I think) made excellent selections & was funny as hell. All in all, the meal was delicious, the presentation out of this world & the service mpeccableable. While I won't be going there regularly, I'm glad that I did go, that's 1 great restaurant to cross off my list.

As usual, Teddy & I hit up Satsko's (after agreeing not to do any Sake Bombs, Teddy rolls straight up to the bar & promptly orders 2!) & 7b. An excellent night out (well, at least for now - ask me again when I get my credit card bill)!

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Flying Finn - Circus of Meat

When we heard that our IT guru and champion scoffer 'Helsinki' Erik Thomasson, aka The Flying Finn was coming to New York, we booked a table at Midtown meat emporium, Bobby Van's. I've been going to this place for years, and being a bit of a meat lover myself, I have to say their steaks are truly excellent...I have much to compare with, although I have never been permitted a reservation at Williamsburg's steaktastic Peter Luger's. I hear it is THE place to go for a nice juicy rib eye or porterhouse. It's all in the dry-aging process, I believe. Muscle (meat) will keep respiring for some time after death, and in the absence of oxygen, it produces lactic acid. Athletes will know all about repaying the oxygen debt. Anyway, these acid compounds 'tenderise' the meat. All it needs is a little heating or blackening on either side, and there you have it. Well enough of the science.

So, after a few carefully chosen apperitifs, we descended on the place. It's always the same smell when I walk in through the door - the smell of charred blood, with a faint whiff of Shiraz and cigar in the air. It's get's the juices going. So does a martini. So after a quick visit to the bar, we are seated. I need no menu, I know exactly what I want - medium rare rib eye, hashed potatoes, and zucchini sticks which they fry in a 'parmesan' tempura batter. I watched the Finn eye the menu, like a big cat stalking his next meal...We had been trying to persuade him to eat a porterhouse for two himself, and we must have done a great job. Erik ordered it rare.

We didn't know quite what to think when it turned up - 3lbs of slightly warmed cow on a burnt plate. The waiters will carve the bugger up too, so you don't have to worry about expending energy cutting - You're gonna need that to digest it.

Being a marathon runner rather than sprint finisher, Erik starts off nice and slow and builds speed gradually until he hits a 'wall' after about half an hour of non-stop chewing.

With some advice on avoiding potatoes and zucchini and encouragement from us all, he manages to polish the thing off. He did look like he might struggle at a couple of key points in the meal but my faith was strong.

God knows how he felt the morning after, or how his guts felt to be more precise. I did remember the ground rumbling in Brooklyn on Saturday morning, no doubt aftershocks from some seismic event on Manhattan's west side...

Friday, September 15, 2006

Boa noite

After trips to Lisboa and Rio a few years ago, I can still remember the taste and texture of really good bacalao. It's also known as saltcod or saltfish here, and it's a fabulous salt-cured fish that has a unique flavour. I remember my first taste on a beach somewhere in Rio - I was wet and sunburnt, tired and in need of superior nutrition. An elderly lady with a sun-withered face and a basket strayed past my towel and said something in Portuguese. I didn't have a clue what she was selling, but I took pity on her and as I thought she could do with some money, I agreed to buy whatever it was underneath the tea towel. "Bacalao" she said. I'd heard friends in Madrid talk about this stuff. I bit into my first rissole. She loitered and watched for my verdict. It was delicious - soft, warm, with a rich fish taste, studded with herb and tiny chunks of potato. With a knowing smile and nod, she was on her way and continued hawking her food further up the beach. I chased after her and bought as many as I could with my wet reals.

So I wanted to introduce my friends to these delights, having stumbled across a couple of big ingots of bacalao in my local fishmonger.

You poach the bacalao in water, add mashed potato, some herbs, maybe a little lemon zest, season and roll into balls. Get the oil hot, drop them in, swirl, remove and drain when brown. Serve with a Piri-Piri dipping sauce - just chillies, EVOO and white wine vinegar. Simple, delicious.

We followed that with a white bean and kale soup with chorizo (another Portuguese classic) and then a pork lemon and rosemary stew with some fresh crusty bread. Lubrication was in the form of a few chilled roses, a ballsy red (all from Portu) and then some great ruby ports.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Extra Virgin II

Despite a crap second course which I'd like to forget, (that's also called an entree - ?) I had a brilliant shimmering supernova of a martini (those that know me will know of this new passion in my life) and a thoroughly ace salmon tartare as an appetiser. I tried Adam's goat cheese 'stacker' (no, we're not talking Burger King here) which was super, and Ace's mushroom-chicken-pea risotta thing had me slobbering all over the cruet set. Luckily I had a big napkin. Seating? Pah! If you like earwigging on other's conversations or being overheard, this place is great.

All in all? Well I'm a generous and forgiving man. 5/10.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Extra Virgin...

Ok, so yesterday was our first official Thursday Club Field Trip, so after drinking in Midtown, we hit up Extra Virgin (259 West 4th Street). I'll admit that I'm going to be somewhat biased as my brother (Sous Chef Stef) used to bartend there & I know the owner, Michelle (lovely) . I've been there quite a few times. I normally eat at the bar, but, as usual, the joint was packed last night. We were seated very quickly (not enough time to finish our first drink), considering how full the place was. The layout of the restaurant is a bit nuts. We were seated in the back & to be quite honest, you had to be a Cirque De Soleil contortionist to make it to the table (with the support beams & cramped tables, etc.), but being the manly man that I am, I didn't let that bother me, although this might deter some diners who like to actually be able to move their legs while eating.

Anyways, I digress. I ordered the Extra Virgin Salad (I tend to order large appetizers & get full, so I thought a simple salad would not fill me up). It hit the spot, red onions, avocado & cherry tomatoes with a balsamic dressing to die for...

I got the Mushroom crusted Chicken as my entree - besides the spaghetti & meatballs Sunday Classic dish (Sundays only), this is the best dish in the house. It was served on a pea risotto with a light cream sauce. I have no idea how they get chicken breast to be that tender without it turning into 'Chicken Tartare'... If you go there - get the chicken, you can thank me later.

I tried some of Teddy & Adam's food as well. Adam's steak au poivre was great (cooked rare thank the gods - people who order steak well done (or even medium-well) freak me out - that's not natural!). My only real gripe of the night was Teddy's entree. I'm sure he's going to review the place in the next few days, so I'll let him explain. There was something not quite right with his dish.

I drank beer that night, so I can't comment on the wine selection. The service was excellent, nary a water glass was half full before the wait staff filled it up. Besides Teddy's ravioli fiasco & the super-cramped seating, I'd still recommend Extra Virgin... As I said before; get the chicken.

We ended the night doing 3 too many Sake bombs with Warren @ Sake Bar Satsko & a few more @ my local dive bar; 7B/Horseshoe bar. An excellent night - I can't wait for our next field trip!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Fishing with Lobster...

Now I'm the first to admit that I don't visit my parents enough, so when my Mom dangled the opportunity of a lobster dinner in front of me, I had to take the bait.

I haven't eaten lobster in quite some time (except for the occassional Lobster Roll at Bond Street (6 Bond St.)) & I've never attempted to cook it. I was amazed at how easy the process was; a 6 minute boil, split them & then a quick baking in the oven after being lathered in garlic butter. Simple to cook & extremely delicious! You can bet that lobster will be on the club menu in the near future!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Brooklyn championing Manhattan?

Well, is it? The trouble is, I think Manhattan is the place people think of first and foremost when it comes to good grub. I want to correct these people. Brooklyn food is "the jump off!" as an LA-born friend once said. What diversity! What quality! And how affordbable! Where else can you get huevos rancheros, (with all the trimmings) and a Corona for 5 bucks? That's 2 pounds fifty where I come from. That wouldn't be enough to feed a small child in London. Oh, you CAN do that in Manhattan? I want to know where! Ah, mind you, excepting of two superfine and may I say legendary restaurants/brunch temples on the Lower East Side - Cafe Juanita, and Los Tres Aztecas. You can't go wrong....Do yourselves a favour and get into it. Anyway, I digress.

It is my pleasure this evening (no, it really is - I'm supping melon martinis and writing at home) to tell you about a superb little eatery in the Brooklyn gastro-Mecca that is Smith Street: Patois. I had the pleasure of dining there over the long weekend. Apparently it was THE place to be about 2-3 years ago when BoCoCa (I hate that real estate talk) became white hot, and according to my good friends who've lived on Smith for a bit. Thankfully, the fickle trendy set move seemingly every 3 weeks or so, meaning that I could get in, and I was, frankly, very impressed. Last minute reservations? "Sure, we can squeeze you in". Want classic French tackle at a fraction of the cost? Here you go.

I ate a brilliant rendition of 'Oysters Four Ways' and a marvellous 'Chicken Wellington'. Both were bloody delicious. And they really were. The oysters were small, perfectly cooked (with cream and chives, mignonette, tempura, etc) and small enough to be the cheekiest and sexiest of bites. And the chicken welly? Fantastic. A beautifully cooked and seasoned chicken breast smothered with duxelles, wrapped in buttery puff pastry, perched atop a tasty pea broth. I was the envy of the table. My dinner companions ate a decent fresh salad (I can't remember what, I'd had a couple of Pom-Martinis at Apartment 138 and I dont care for such green items when I'm out), a sufferingly good plate of charcuterie - pheasant pistachio and port terrine, salami, liver? And a soup? As I said, these martinis were kicking in...For mains - besides my chicken welly - trout, beef and a salmon dish. All worthy of the highest praise. Well done, Chef. I hope you're reading this, Mr Bruni.

The wine list was not cumbersome and extreme - Minimal, well sought and selected, sensibly priced, and easily paired with the food on offer. Served with aplomb. Simply marvellous. You don't get that so often these days in New York, huh?

I shall return, for food, wine and the atmosphere. I'm rarely so gushing about a restaurant, but I really had a great night there. 5 stars in my book (to top the stingy 4 stars they award in the New York Times) and well worth a visit, Manhattanites. I'll be seeing you there.
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