Monday, December 31, 2007

Brooklyn Diner (Terminal 8, JFK)

We had been planning a club trip for quite some time, so when Singapore Sid came to visit & suggested a quick hop up to Montreal, we all jumped on the opportunity (see posts to come). Adam & I were on the same flight, so we woke up at the butt crack of dawn to make our 7am flight. Obviously, we hadn't had time to eat & there was no way they were going to serve food on the bi-plane/crop duster that was taking us on your 51 minute flight. Once cleared through customs, we wanted some breakfast. Brooklyn Diner? Sounds great! It felt like we had entered some kind of Bizarro World once we entered the joint.

Complete madness, employees yelling at each other & the overriding smell of grease. We knew we were in for a treat! Adam was the Einstein of the group & opted for a bagel & cream cheese, I decided to order the monstrosity you see above. I know that airport food is bad, but this is just plain ridiculous. As soon as I opened the wrapper, I gagged a bit. I fail to understand how anyone, in good conscience, could serve up such rubbish. We were headed to Montreal on a carefully mapped out culinary tour de force; this was NOT a good start. At $9.24 this was highway robbery. I hadn't taken 3 steps out of the joint & I could already feel my stomach doing cartwheels!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Man & His Meats

After a brief hiatus, the crew reconvened @ Adam's house on a Tuesday (for logistical purposes), for (guess?); MEAT! I nearly had a heart attack when the menu went out on Monday!

Here goes:

1- Braised Chicken Hearts w/Shallots & Red Wine Sauce.
2- Caramelized Fennel & Short Rib Ravioli w/Parmesan & Romano 'Chips'.
3- Beef Tenderloin w/Roasted Garlic, Carrots & Potatoes.
4- Sweet Potato & Golden Raisin Pasties & Coffee.

1- I was particularly excited by this opening dish as I'd never eaten heart (of any kind) & I wanted to know how they tasted. They'd been simmering away on the stove, so an amazing aroma greeted us as we arrived at Adam's.

I really enjoyed this dish, the hearts were very rich, lean & flavorful. They weren't stringy or tough as I had imagined they would be & the thick red wine sauce was amazing! I really commend Adam for having an adventurous spirit as I would never have thought to attempt this dish. Bravo!

2- After a bit of a break our next dish came out. Adam had let us nibble on some of the short ribs, so I knew the ravioli was going to be good. Adam did have some trouble getting these little nuggets of goodness sealed, but mine were all watertight. The short ribs were really well spiced (a bit salty maybe) & the fennel really complimented it well. The 'chips' added a whole new dimension to the dish. They were crunchy, cheesy & delicious.

3- On to the big ol' hunk of tenderloin! I thought I was going to cry as Adam began slicing the meat. Red, juicy, mesmerizing. Roasted Garlic (Adam roasted 4 heads) was spread in between the meat for added flavor. The roasting process really takes the spicy edge off of garlic & makes them have a subtle, sweet flavor which I really thought was a nice touch.

Not sure where Adam bought his meat from (Eagle Provisions (654 5th Avenue, Brooklyn) maybe?), but it was of the highest quality. Take that & add the fact that Adam is a wizard when cooking meats, then you have an excellent dish. The tenderloin was served on a bed of honey glazed veggies. Perhaps one of the funniest parts of the night was Grant's quote: "Masticating is back!"

4- Next up were the sweets. They didn't come out perfectly (visually-speaking), but they sure were tasty. You could tell that there was a hell of a lot of butter in these bad boys. They were flaky & sweet with a hint of savory. The raisins, however, were like molten lava, but well worth the pain!

Now here's where things get crazy; Jason (AKA Coffee Boy), Adam's roommate (not to be confused with me, JBoogie), fired up Gaggia, his monstrous coffee machine for some lattes. I'm not sure if it's the fact that the coffee machine is about the size of a small car, has an LCD screen & is quite obviously based on alien technology light years ahead of our own or Jason's skill as a barista that makes the coffee taste so good.

We literally sat there for 90 minutes forcing Jason to make more & more - in the end, I think Teddy had like 5 of them. You can imagine the state that we were in; 5 pissed up lads with full bellies bugged out on caffeine. Good Stuff!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Sheep Station: A master of pub grub

Some time ago, my mate Paul and I, both of us Brooklyn residents, were thinking about where we might be able to watch rugby World cup without leaving our beloved borough. As we remembered ugly, drunken crowd scenes from the 6 Nations tournament in various bars in Manhattan the previous year, we were nervous about returning to that part of town. So the choice was obvious, and we pulled on our England rugby top and headed north to Sheep Station. Co-owner Jason Crew is from Down Under and therefore is as passionate about rugby as we are. He sells a fine selection of beers from Oz and New Zealand. Co-owner Martine Lafond (from Smith Street Kitchen) makes some pretty special pub grub. What could else could we ask for? We had all the bases covered.

While watching English rugby crumble in the second game against South Africa, and a near defeat against rookies USA, I thought my summer of the pure sport was drawing to a close. When England pulled through the first round, hammered the French in the next one, and then defeated the Australians, I was delirious with excitement. Could we do it again? Win the World cup two times on the trot? As it happened, we were beaten fairly by a superior South African team. No matter, I had made a lot of new friends and found a great new bar in the process.

Two things make me cry when I think about Sheep Station. One is that crushing rugby defeat. The other is the thought of biting down into one of their warm meat pies.

With hot filled pastry on my mind, I headed on over with a few buddies the other night after a hard day at the office. We wanted to eat, drink and be merry. We were greeted by a grinning Jason, who treats everybody, I think, like a long lost friend, and he wanted to hear all about what I'd been up to.

"Oh nothin', you know, just been thinking about your meat pies, mate."

"Good on yer mate. Grab a beer."

The trouble I always have at Sheep Station is deciding which one of their delicious brews I want a pint of. They have a fine array of beers, some from Down Under, others from New Zealand, and they're all right tasty. I tried the NZ Steinlager, a bright fizzy lager, and then decided to move on Boag's, another refreshing brew. We were given the best seats in the house, a huge distressed picnic bench near the front window. I can't say that the view was good however, it wasn't. My perch overlooked a dimly lit stretch of gas stations, car repair shops and traffic travelling along 4th Ave at the speed of sound.

Martine came over shortly afterwards, and said she wanted us to eat what she wanted us to eat, which was fine by all of us as I'd never eaten a bad thing in Sheep Station before (apart from that rugby defeat) and I looked forward to plate after plate of Aussie goodies.

The first wave came out and hit the table: An ice-cold, glistening platter of oysters, a pile of crisp squid with dipping sauce and a summery salad of beets and sheepy Manchego. Those Malpeques were uber fresh and glistened with salty tang, needing the slightest lip vacuum to pluck them from their calcium carbonate beds. Delicious. Canadian oysters taste so good in the winter. It has something to do with a water current, I believe...? A plate of crunchy squid overflowed and that golden jacket concealed moist and perfectly cooked annuli of oceanic goodness. I'm never normally one for salads so the green coloured was a pub-grub novelty for me. What can I say? Well dressed leaves, juicy cubes of beetroot, hefty triangles of good cheese. Beets and cheese are a great combination, and it seems that the Aussies can think of 101 uses for burgundy root veg.

A bathtub full of steaming mussels swimming in salty garlic broth was delivered next, that and the heavenly meat pie course, with a decadent tray of Martine's poutine on the side. The mussels were great, pretty damn big too, and I got deep into the bowl with my filthy paws, scooping the delicious liquor up in the wee shells. When I could scoop no more liquor out because of the shape of shell (I must speak to Mother Nature about that) I had to switch tactics. They had thoughtfully provided sponges made out of bread to go with the dish. I wanted to eliminate every last drop of broth from the porcelain. Job done. It will get tricky now, describing the pies. So I'm going to write down whatever I can remember from the dream-like 5 minutes I spent with my favourite dish. I remember a warm sensation against my grateful lips and then a mouthful of expectant saliva....And then a tide of minced beef, onions and rich, rich stock enveloping and sinking island wafers of buttery pastry. Truly awesome. I requested that Martine make a whole tray of them for me, so I can take them home and spend a weekend locked indoors, just me and my pies. Poutine is the ultimate beer food, chips and cheese and gravy. The gravy does have a habit of getting everywhere, but mess sometimes makes it more satisfying, in a childlike fashion.

While I was mopping up after the poutine, we were presented with a big bowl of lamb chops with mash and minted peas, a classic fish and chips, a smoky steak sandwich, and a tall 'shearer's' burger replete with beetroot, fresh pineapple and a fried egg. I could compare Sheep Station's lamb chops to my mother's old cutlery. By that, I mean they have handles made out of real bone. Or I could compare them to lolly pops: They come with a handle, they drip, and they are immensely satisfying. I must say, I devoured mine in seconds. They had a nice crust on the outside, with dribbling pink flesh on the inside, just as lamb chops should be. Exemplary lamb. I honestly couldn't get my gob around the burger, and not from lack of trying. In the end, we thought it might be best to cut slices from it and share. Beef and fried eggs? What's not to like? Fish and chips is in my blood. My nation was built on the back of that dish. I couldn't wait to test Martine's version: A succulent ingot of Atlantic cod battered and fried until golden, resting on a bed of crisp spud fingers. Quite delicious. The only thing missing (and of course I'm a Limey bastard) was mushy peas. I don't think the Aussies get that concept. It's a very British thing.

Sheep Station is a wonderful place to spend an evening. Leave your manners and designer clothes at the door. Great food, top-notch ale and Antipodean wine. Unless you're a total snob, I can't see why it should be overlooked. The bar's location, on 4th Ave, was a pioneering move by the owners. 4th Ave has never been considered part of Park Slope, perhaps more as it's outer boundary keeping gentrification within and the auto and tire shops out, but Sheep Station has been a hit and locals are glad to have a place they can finally call their own. It gets fairly lively in there, and that's just what 4th avenue needs - something a bit different from the more salubrious places one block away on 5th.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Stanton Social (99 Stanton Street)

So, the gang (11 of us in all methinks), descended onto the Lower East Side yesterday for some excellent brunch at the super-cool Stanton Social. Given the number of diners, we were offered a 6 course tasting menu & boy was it good!

We all arrived & were seated on the mezzanine level which overlooks the hip, industrial main dining area. Brunch started off a bit shaky as the waiter forgot a few of our drink orders, but as soon as the food came out, it was pure bliss.

- Wolf & Sons' Bagel & Lox Platter.

Aye Curumba! I'm a huge fan of smoked salmon, so I was really excited to 'wolf' (pun intended) these down.

I thought that the presentation was excellent, particularly the cream cheese which was served like an scoop of ice cream. The fish was delicious, but my only real gripe was that it took a bit of effort to get at the capers. No biggie though.

- Vanilla Bean Pancakes w/Caramelized Bananas & Spiced Pecans.

Again, beautifully presented & topped with the bananas, pecans & a sprinkle of confectioner's sugar. I'll admit that I'm not much of a pancake eater, but these were small & went down very easily. The maple syrup was some of the very best that I've ever had (move over Aunt Jemima!) I did, however, wish that there were more bananas on the stack.

- Classic Eggs Benedict w/Canadian Bacon & Hollandaise.
- Potato Latkes.

These two courses came out together & actually complemented each other very well. Nothing much of interest to report about the Benedict, standard fare (not trying to say they weren't good). I really liked the Latkes which were topped with sour cream & apple sauce. An excellent mix of sweet & savory.

- BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich.
- Lobster Rolls.

Whoa! Sandwich overload! It was like a mini surf & turf! I was already filling up by now, but I did enjoy both of these courses. Particularly the Pork which was cooked to perfection.

All in all, an excellent experience. I'd like to go back to The Stanton Social for dinner one day & sample the a la carte delicacies. Definitely check the joint out!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Boogstrom East

217 East 7th Street, b/w Ave B & C
Dinner, Tue-Fri only, 6pm-midnight
Amex, Visa, MC

With a name like that I expected food that I might find on those rather unglamorous 'Smorgasboard' cruises from Harwich to Esbjerg. Oh yes, all the usual stuff - herrings, mustard, frikkadeller with all the trimmings, piles of rotten berries, litres of cold vodka and small cloaks made of smoked salmon. So you would be forgiven for also thinking that this is a Scandinavian restaurant. With a name like Boogstrom, what else would they serve?

"So Mr Casseus, what is the concept behind Boogstrom?"

He muses: "I was sick of places, that, you know, when you walked in, you sort of knew what to expect. I wanted to create something different. I only serve a 6-course prix-fixe, and it's what I want to serve, nobody has choices, bollocks to them. There's no menu, so all the pissheads from 7B or Manitoba's turning up to eat will be surprised, no doubt about that, Bro."

"Indeed. So why the name Boogstrom?"

"I have a real tit of a friend who makes these things up. He's a proper cock. The name just sounded great though, and really throws people off the scent, like it did you eh? Expecting Scandie grub were ya? He he."

It's clear that Mr Casseus has some unique ideas in the restaurant-choked environs of the East Village. There were other unique aspects to our visit on this particular night, one of them being the bar which is seemingly self-service. While our coats were being taken, Mr Casseus, who is in his kitchen behind a glass screen asks whether we want a drink. Why yes, we'd love a drink.

"It's in the fridge over there, some white, some beer, some red for later, get stuck in. Don't hold back. Mi casa, su casa."

While we sheepishly raided his fridge for wine, Mr Casseus told us what he wanted to serve. His menu is novel, and truly international. Tonight, we were to eat: Cream of broccoli soup with garlic crostini, white bean salad with shitakes, mussels Provencal, Cornish hen with gratin spud and spinach and finally pumpkin cheescake. So then, that's English, Italian with a Japanese twist, SW French and American?

Mr Casseus is self taught. Despite physical hindrances and lacking the poise and delicate flourishes of the classically trained, he manages to churn out some remarkable food.

First let me focus on what was great about Boogstrom East. The broccoli soup was a fine edition, full of vegetable flavour and enhanced with a smatter of black pepper and cream. Perched atop it, a wonderfully sweet roast garlic crostini. Casseus has roasted the garlic long and slow, and this sort of treatment taxes the pungency from the clove and renders it sweet, silky and a pleasure to smear on toasted bread. The white bean salad was a simple liaison of beans, fried shitakes, herbs and tomato with an olive oil and lemon dressing, the kind of salad you'd want to eat while standing in a pair of Speedos with the sun on your back, floating around on your mate's pimped-out yacht anchored somewhere off of Cannes, sipping a chilled glass of something very expensive. By all that, I mean delicious. A very seasonal pumpkin cheesecake shows that Casseus has studied the pastry arts too - A thick, burnt orange cream core lounging on a disc-shaped stretcher of chocolate cookie. Tremendous. I'd have called it Pimpin' cheesecake.

Sadly, there were some dishes that demonstrated that Boogstrom East has some way to go before being the finished article. Mussels Provencal came as a blood red, highly reduced sauce that had a massive acidic kick to it, like being slapped round the chops with a giant lemon. The mussels were overcooked too and had the texture of pencil eraser. I couldn't bear to bite down on them. A Cornish hen, while beautifully roasted with succulent giving flesh, lacked a touch of seasoning unfortunately, and it's partner, the potato gratin, had been ushered in and out of the oven all too quickly resulting in a undesirable chalky texture.

The great things about Boogstrom East far outweigh the bad. The mistakes made in the kitchen would be easy to correct. Boogstrom East will mature in time, and take it's spot in the culinary pantheon of the Lower East Side. In the meantime, I will certainly continue to enjoy eating there, not least for the experience of Mr Casseus' company who delights in reigning over his 6-cover empire.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

RUB (208 West 23rd St.)

I ventured out of my normal stomping grounds last night & by golly, I'm glad I did. After working up a hunger from decorating 7B Xmas style, Dan & I headed up to Chelsea for some insanely good Kansas City BBQ. RUB stands for Righteous Urban Barbecue & what owner Paul Kirk does with meat is Righteous indeed.
Both Dan & I opted for the 'Burnt Ends'. They're available in limited quantities & we managed to snag the last 2 orders (we chuckled like little children as wave after wave of patrons tried to order them, only to hear that they were all out). The Burnt Ends are basically super-tender, fatty brisket with a deliciously charred outer side. Kings do not eat this well. Served on a metal platter & accompanied by 2 sides & bread, the food was simple yet effective. I got the beans & coleslaw. The beans, oh my God, the beans. Dan told me they were good, but never in my wildest dreams could I have envisioned how fucking tasty they were. Molasses, brown sugar, pulled pork & spices to make your mouth water...

We washed it all down with Shiner Bock which is apparently the State Beer of Texas & not available in NY. Some how they manage to smuggle in truckloads of the stuff & if I'm right, RUB is one of the only places in the city to get this tasty beverage.
I really enjoyed myself @ RUB & I highly recommend the place!

Acme (9 Great Jones St.)

My Mondays have taken some structure as of late, namely a trip to Acme with Dan to suck down some Happy-Hour Margaritas & eat some fine southern fare. This Monday was no exception. Our bartender, Rudy, makes some of the best frozen Margaritas on earth & his pour gets much heavier as the night wears on. The booze in the joint is excellent (try the Acme beer), but the real draw is the food. They have an insane all-you-can-eat fried chicken special & probably some of the best Mac & Cheese that I've ever had.
We had the catfish fingers this time & they were pure heaven. Doused in cornmeal & accompanied by a spicy (Old Bay?) mayo & cornbread & fried to perfection, Dan & I were in 7th heaven. If you enjoy good food & like to get drunk, check out Acme!

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

Sometimes to get the best, you have to travel off of the beaten path. Where Teddy's barbeque adventure took him to the clusterf*ck that is Midtown Manhattan for Virgil's BBQ (you can read below how that ended), I knew of a place a little bit out of the way that I was hoping to prove worthy of the trip. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is a restaurant that I know very well from my days back at Syracuse University (where their flagship location presides), but a few years ago they opened another location on 131st Street and 12th Avenue in Harlem. How would this stack up to the original?

It was somewhat difficult to get a reservation at the time we wanted, but since our group could be considered giant with 13 of us in tow, we happily took the 2:00pm spot. Lines spilling out onto the street corner and into the indoor bar area welcomed us when we arrived and a steady flow of people flooded it's cavernous, wooden interior all day. This was a great sign, but as you know, butts in the seats doesn’t necessarily spell quality all the time in New York. Example: the Knicks sell out pretty much every home game….wrap your brain around that. We were seated as soon as enough of us had arrived, and were given menus and drink choices immediately. Before anyone had the chance to say, "So, what did you order?", our long set of tables was flooded with small appetizer plates, frosty pitchers and ice buckets filled with chilled beers. For the table, we split fried green tomatoes, 'drunken' peel and eat shrimp, and chili on-the-half-shell (nachos slathered with the house chili). All were sensational. The tomatoes were crispy golden brown, surprisingly tart, and disappeared in a puff of smoke and seasoned ranch dipping sauce. It was good to get the only non-meat item out of the way first. The shrimp were heavily seasoned on the outside which allowed us to regulate the spiciness with a lick of the fingers once you to fought your way into the damn thing. The nachos merely acted as a conveyance for the chili and were generally camouflaged underneath a heaping spoonful of the piping hot chili and gooey melted cheese. Sadly, this plate only made one spin around the table.

Filling up on appetizers might have been a poor idea for several Dinosaur Bar-B-Que amateurs in our party. When the hubcap-sized main course plates were slid in front us, sighs of "Daaaaamn" and "Oh no, I'm in trouble" traveled down the table like fallen dominoes. Personally, I always welcome a good eating challenge. After performing the proper pre-meal calisthenics, I dove face-first into my Tres Hombres, which is pulled pork, ribs, beef brisket, 2 sides and cornbread. All the meats were super tender and glistened with moisture, as good barbecue should be, and had the signature pink smoke ring to boot. I went for the hand-cut fries and coleslaw as sides, but their mac & cheese, potato salad, chili and Syracuse salt potatoes all got stuffed-mouth, head-nodding approval from the group.

Although covering barbecue in sauce is taboo in some areas of the country, I couldn't resist the lure of the Wango Tango sauce (their spicy version of the house barbecue sauce) and a perky little habanero-garlic number which came in a smaller bottle that bore a number of skull & bones. They went on and in everything, including my friend's purse on the way out (remember kids: stealing is wrong).

Drinks, appetizers, main course, and coffee went for less than $35 per person. For that price, everyone was full and content beyond words although alot of the food ended up coming back in styrofoam containers.

Room for one more? Go'on Then!

Dinosaur version2.0 - Harlem does the original spot justice with quality food, attentive service, funky decor (complete with foot stomping blues music and graffiti-littered bathrooms), and in my mind stands up with the best barbecue joints in all of New York City. So, definitely make the trip up for some awesome grub. Save that extra money you would ordinarily spend at Manhattan restaurants for a taxi back to the subway.....or for a wheelbarrow ride home.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Reality check at Virgil's

Well it's definitely BBQ, real BBQ. But is it the best? I doubt it. Virgil's Times Square location means that the place is always heaving with bodies. It has one of the largest neon signs of any restaurant in the city, very Times Square I suppose, and it promises REAL BBQ. Whether you've had it before or not, any place that promises that probably needs a visit.

We checked in at the desk and had a brief wait for a table, which we expected. It was a good opportunity to drink a quick beer and check out the clientèle. While sipping a Boston Lager in the crowded bar area, I spied a fabulous low-rent Isaac Hayes, complete with 'budget' ruby rings, wheelbarrow beard and suit from Men's Warehouse. More bizarrely, next to us stood a couple who didn't say a word to each other for 20 minutes while they waited for their table. I did notice his Adidas track suit and sneakers though, and I calculated that his silence and the track suit could only mean one thing: International barbecue athletes come to train at Virgil's. After somebody started shouting my name, we were seated upstairs on a large table covered in a myriad of bottle and red towels containing cutlery. Our waitress was a very cheery sort considering she'd been on the floor since 9am. She took our drinks orders and said she'd be back to take the food order. I was with a friend Paul, who is a Virgil's regular and he said I should opt for one of the BBQ platters.

I was concerned about the presence of cutlery, I mean BBQ should be tender enough to be eaten with mucky digits right? But then I remembered that all that smoky meat does come with some sloppy sides - BBQ beans, potato salad, biscuits. They could also substitute chips (ahem, fries) and some other stuff like cheesy grits and coleslaw but if this was REAL BBQ then I'd try to be as REAL as I could (unlike the Isaac Hayes knock-off downstairs) and go with tradition. Potato, beans and biscuits it is then. I also saw 'Trainwreck Fries' on the menu, and despite a fairly accurate description of what these things are the menu, I was still curious and ordered a plate for the table. What turned up was exactly as described: A large plate of chips, covered in bacon, cheese, green onion, jalapenos and ranch dressing, like a sort of chip-based pizza without the tomato sauce. Well they were alright, but I suspect somebody just PR-ed the hell out of something they made when they came home from a mammoth piss-up and threw everything in the fridge on a plate, baked it and covered it with sour milk.

Now firmly in the BBQ spirit (drinking cheap beer, watching the Knicks lose on a flat screen telly and inhaling burned meat) our main plates arrived. The ribs on my platter were the best bit, all succulent with tiny lakes of translucent fat hidden between strata of smoked pig, but the 'brisket' was drier than Gandhi's flip-flop and tasted like tree bark seasoned with rain water. Not pleasant. The sides were just OK, The beans reminded me of Heinz Beans with some smoky bits chucked in there, the biscuit was a very crumbly affair and didn't hold up well when I tried to use it as a vehicle to get the beans from the plate into my mouth, but the potato salad was good. (If you can mess potato salad up, you're really in the shit.) I sneaked a couple of forkfuls of cheesy grits from the wife's plate, which were not at all cheesy. I also tried her beef steak, which tasted of, well, steak. Not bad, not brilliant.

Is it REAL BBQ? Well I think so. It tastes like all the other BBQ joints I've been to in New York, so it must be real. I even pinched myself in the restaurant to make sure it was REAL. Yes - It's definitely there. The ribs are the high point, almost everything else is plain mediocre. Some dishes are horrific and that brisket will suck the saliva out of your mouth faster than half a brick of alum. You should go to Dallas BBQ, spend a fraction of the money you'll spend here and get great BBQ of similar quality.

TEMPO - A Park Slope All Star

In late 2004, residents of Park Slope were disappointed to hear that their posh neighborhood restaurant spot, and 5th Avenue renaissance original, Cucina, was to close down. A few months later, to much excitement, owner Michael Fiore threw open the doors of the space Cucina once inhabited and introduced his new restaurant to the district. The new incarnation, Tempo, offers relaxed, neutral-toned candle-lit spaces, consisting of a splendid dark wood bar and two dining rooms. The décor says down-to-earth, and this approach is realized in the food too. Fiore and partners Robert Amato and Michael Elliott learned their trade in the Batali/Bastianich fold in various restaurants in Manhattan, so it should come as no surprise that the food is essentially rustic Italian. But Tempo’s food has some extra inspiration from other Mediterranean shores, borrowing flavors from Morocco, Spain and Greece.

After spending a few minutes at their well stocked bar, my dining companions arrived and we were seated promptly. Being seated promptly is an especially good thing as, if you’re like me, you’ll look at the menu, mutter “Wow!” and want to order it all. Or, at least you’ll have trouble discerning which dishes you want most from a multitude of mouthwatering options and this will of course take some time. Thankfully, our waiter took matters into his own hands and said he might persuade Chef to knock up a tasting menu of four starters, four main dishes, and if we have room, an assiette of desserts. He’d even pair up the dishes with wines from their impressive and well priced cellar. We’d have been mad not to take him up on that.

An erect duck pastilla (duck confit wrapped in crisp bric pastry) was matched brilliantly with some Moroccan-spiced barbecue glaze and cinnamon sugar, and I was surprised how well the sugar worked with the cumin in the glaze. A Tuscan farro salad with caciocavallo was deliciously light, and the accompanying cucumber, parsley and olives hit bright summery notes, whereas a dense polenta dish, rich with parmesan and creamy assiago and studded with meaty wild mushrooms demonstrated that the kitchen can master the sort of appetizer you need on a cold November night too. The next assault began with a luxurious pappardelle smothered in wild boar ragu, mint and pecorino, followed by a sublime primo of garganelli with pumpkin, prosciutto and toasted Amaretti breadcrumbs. I secretly wanted a wheelbarrow full of that garganelli, to take home and hoard. We were presented with a rich Riesling to accompany our starters, and a pleasingly dry Orvieto Classico, a solid Trebbiano blend from the beautiful rolling Umbrian countryside.

Into our entrees, a whole sea bream was shown to the table, and was then whisked away for a deft filleting. It was served with bright sauce of cherry tomatoes, white wine and Meyer lemon oil. We tried a lusciously moist pink lozenge of salmon and a moist, perfectly seasoned organic chicken, which came as leg and breast embellished with a delicious jus made with preserved lemons, ginger, saffron and coriander leaves. The accompanying chick pea fries were executed perfectly, with a crisp jacket and fluffy interior. The final entrée presented was an exuberant dish of braised short ribs, truffled taro root mash and taro root chips The meat literally dissolved on contact with the tongue, and then washed over it with a soft beefiness, its flavor spiked with musky truffle and lubricated with that rich mash, loaded with butter. Our food was paired up nicely with a delicious pinot noir and a magnificent ‘Shardana’, a 2000 red from Sardinia, which stood up to the beef without overpowering it.

Did we have room for desserts after that? Well, honestly not really, but our waiter did a great job of persuading us otherwise and whisked out a selection of homemade gelati, a decadent Valrhona chocolate tart moistened with coffee ice cream and, the best dessert of all, a toffee and date pudding with caramel sauce. I expected the date pudding to be leaden, but a massive spoonful proved it was light and airy and packed with date flavor. We missed out on the hot cinnamon apple beignets, but that’s a great excuse for me to go back very soon. Our meal completed with a final flourish - a glass of lightly sparkling Piemonte Moscato.

The service was very efficient and seamless, with each course seemingly melting into the next one. If you’re lucky enough to have the energetic Jay wait your table, as we were that night, you’re in for a treat. Not only is he damn good at what he does, he possesses a wealth of information about ingredients, cooking techniques and wines, and we delighted in picking his brains.

Tempo has everything spot on - the food, the prices, the ambiance, the service. The chaps in the kitchen clearly have a love of ingredients and food that’s not easy to find. It’s very evident in whatever they cook. It’s these factors that make Tempo a 5th Ave favorite and landmark. I imagine one could eat there a couple of times a week and never get fed up. In fact, I think I’ll put that to the test.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Seventh Heaven

For weeks now, Teddy has been sitting on a secret. A menu so well thought out, the phrase, "I'm going to blow you mother f*ckers away" became commonplace whenever food was mentioned. A menu so special, it came out a day earlier that usual just because he couldn't possibly keep it under his hat for one more iota. Mental note.....don't ever tell Teddy secrets. As boisterously advertised, it was indeed a stellar menu.

* Calabaza and Vanilla Soup

* Chicken liver - cognac parfait, pickled Concord grape jelly

* Artichoke and ricotta tart, dandelion and radish salad

* Wild salmon with dill and Pernod

* 'Hill & Mountain' - Duo of wild boar, truffled potato mousseline, haggis cream/spiced apple butter

* 'Potted' Cheshire cheese

* Caramelized bananas, bacon ice cream, salted peanut brittle

We were immediately greeted to the sound of popping wine corks, the smells of cooking food, and news of a late addition to the menu. The amuse bouche in this case being the soup. Warm and vibrant in color, it had a slight sweet taste due to some vanilla and an almost meaty aftertaste because of cumin. Unfortunately, I didn't have (and maybe could never have) enough of this creamy goodness, but with quite a ways to go, a small cup would have to do.

Preserved in a shell of hardened butter, this rich, creamy parfait/spread worked exceptionally with the 'right off of the vine' sweetness of the Concord grape jelly. Often the individual tastes in a spread like this get muddled and dulled in the mix of ingredients. However, the chicken liver taste was very prominent and reminded us what we were eating.....which was a good thing.

A touch of sea salt on top was all it needed to create the ultimate bite. This ever-elusive bite was duplicated again and again until the serving bowl was empty and there was nothing left but four grown men fighting for the right to scrape the remnants from each others' knives. When food reduces us to these childish tactics, you know it’s good.

The courses were spaced out at pace that only made my hunger increase during the down times.....good thing there was plenty of wine to keep me busy. Next was the tart. Our forks glided seamlessly through the egg and artichoke mixture until it hit the delicate bottom crust. The small salad was welcome at this point of the night too. The lightly-dressed greens were a great accompaniment to the buttery tart. It was delicious and kept with the light start to this daunting meal.

The salmon dish was a model of simplicity and spoke volumes to the importance of good ingredients and balanced flavors. As it rested in the Pernod and dill, the thin round of salmon became infused with a beautiful herbal taste and seemed to cook and soften ever so slightly in the acidity. If it weren't for Teddy's intended purpose for this thin piece of fish, I bet the dressing would act as a terrific marinade for a thicker filet. Uncomplicated, straight forward in preparation and plating, and one of my favorite dishes of the night.

As we hit the halfway point of the meal (don't check my math), my hunger was like a freight train, gaining momentum and strength as the night wore on. Perfect timing for the main course, which just happened to be the meat course. When the boar roastette was unveiled from its swaddling cloth, I was instantly impressed with the color and lack of fat. Man was it beautiful.

After ooohing and aahing at its brilliance, Teddy rolled it liberally in salt and pepper then pan roasted to a textbook rare-medium rare. To be honest, I thought the whole process took a bit too long, but my impatience is well documented and yet again, the chef was correct. Maybe it was just my grumbling stomach talking.

The meat balls were formed together with bacon fat, ground boar shoulder meat, and pepper then shook around in a scorching hot pan to cook through and form a little textured crust on the outside. The duo was plated on a smear of truffled mashed potatoes. It tasted as stunning as it sounds and looks. Both preparations were perfectly juicy and had a unique taste that only wild meat can deliver. A sweet and rich apple butter was a last-minute substitution for the ambitious and head-scratchingly odd haggis cream. Confession: I did give the haggis more than a few tastes before siding with a sauce that did not make our chef’s face cringe with horror. I think that’s a safe rule to live by.

The stop-gap course after the main event and before the highly anticipated dessert was potted Cheshire cheese. The cheese was whipped with butter and sweet port wine and molded with a walnut crust to form a dome. It was more than satisfactory for the sixth frame of a lengthy meal, but I selfishly had my eyes on the next course….Teddy’s tour de force dessert.

First of all, I love bacon. I love it by itself, on things and in things. When I saw bacon ice cream on the menu, when others might furrow their brows in skepticism, I was overcome by intense feelings of curiosity and unbridled joy. It more than lived up to all of my expectations. However, the ice cream did not steal the show. It was an integral part of the three pronged attack:

1) Halved bananas – lacquered with a sweet, almost candy coating that gave way to a warm, soft filling.
2) Bacon ice cream – extremely creamy, infused with bacon flavor and sprinkled with ground bits of crispy bacon within. I probably couldn’t eat a bowl of this by itself (I’m just downright lying to myself about that), but when mixed with the other 2 components, created the quintessential sweet-savory dessert.
3) Peanut brittle – delightfully crunchy and became lodged in your teeth if chewed quickly, or melted slowly with a smooth peanut flavor.

I enjoyed the hell out of this meal (all 4 hours of it), and look forward to the next bar-raising evening for the Thursday Club.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A fine old tart

When I read recently (and confirmed my findings on that mushrooms are nearly a superfood, providing ample quantities of everything the body needs, I was delerious with joy. Not only are they just about the tastiest things on the planet, now they're bloody good for you as well! So I headed straight for Union Market in the Slope to fill a basket with fungi, buerre D'Isigny (that wonderful Brittany butter with sea salt crystals in) and some parmesan cheese. I was thinking about baking them.

After selecting some wonderful specimens (baby bellas, portabellas, oyster, chanterelles) I headed back home and grabbed a bottle of Samuel Smith's British Porter from D'Vine on the way. After downing my beer in record time, I set about baking my swag. But when I remembered I had some one of those cheat pie-crusts in the chiller, baking them was the last thing on my mind. I wanted pastry! So mushroom tart was the only way to go.

Now this recipe really is a piece of piss. And I'm not even going to give weights and measures - just eyeball the stuff. Barring a moment of complete abstract madness, you can't balls this up. I whizzed 2 large handfuls of my mushrooms in the processor and threw them into a skillet to stir - you need to get as much moisture out of the damn thins as possible, and you'll be surprised how 'wet' they are. Keep stirring and don't let the buggers burn. Low heat, please. In another skillet, I fried half an onion, and some garlic until soft. Add this to your other skillet with the drying mushrooms in. Season the whole lot well - they'll need plenty of salt - and keep the whoe thing turning until almost dry. In the empty onion and garlic pan, add some more olive oil and slice a large portabella into eight equal slices, for decoration. Saute these until lightly coloured on both sides. Reserve. In the processor, mix a cup of creme fraiche (or half a cup heavy cream, plus half a cup of sour cream) with a whole egg, an egg yolk, some chopped herbs (I used tarragaon, chives, parsley) and some grated parmesan, about a handful. Season well with black pepper ONLY. Blend the mixture for a few seconds. (*For a devilishly decadent tart, add a teaspoon of truffle pate, or, if you're filthy rich, some freshly shaved truffle.) Dump the dried mushroom/onion/garlic mixture into the processor and blend for 2 seconds. You want to have some texture left in the mushrooms, so don't overdo it. Pour the mixture into the tart case, and bake at 450 F for about 18 minutes, or until mixture is almost set. Remoce from the oven and press the large cooked slices of mushroom on to the surface of the art in whatever pattern you want. Press them into the mixture so the top is even all over. Bake for another 2-3 mins, then remove and cool for another 20. Slice carefully with a razor-sharp knife.

I ate mine with a green salad of arugula and mache and Good Lord, it really was stunning. I could convert fungi-phobes with this stuff.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Eating Food Are You? Prick…

Tangerine-Topped Adam was this week’s man with a pan and arriving at his Brooklyn mansion felt very much like regressing 15 years as our lateness was met with a sullen face and threatening gestures with kitchen utensils. Still, we had good excuses…it was Friday and the end of the working week needed suitably celebrating with a few Babyshams. Unfortunately it was too early to blame the clocks shifting.

Thursday Club regulars Teddy and Boogie were in attendance as well as Adam’s new flat mate (and Thursday Club virgin) Jason. It’s incredible that we have two Jason’s in the club who are so strikingly similar but if you need to tell them apart then you’ll notice that new Jason has slightly fuller eyebrows and smells like Brazil.

So this week’s menu (which I got whilst drunk on the Wednesday causing me to nearly eat my phone) was as follows…

Trio of Pizettas (shredded duck confit, apple & cheddar – “Greek” with olives & feta – Spicy Marinara, smoked mozerella & basil)
Mini Potato Dauphinois with Crumbled Kielbasa & Braised Broccoli Rabe
Parmesan and Herb Crusted Snapper Filet with Garlic Cream Sauce, Black Pepper Biscuit & Micro Green Salad
Baked Banana Crumble with Mixed Berry & Balsamic Reduction

Now as you may have picked up from previous entries of mine, nothing says “welcome” quite like some stray meat hanging about on a table that needs clearing up. Now when that stray meat is duck confit then that’s a seriously big welcome and frankly I don’t even remember saying hello to people until there was only bone on show (fnarr fnarr).

The assault on the vino began (along with the ritual promise for someone to blog the wine which will probably never happen) as the first course hit the oven. Undeniably, I have a poor grasp on languages (I am English and it is my God given right not to learn other languages) but I assumed that Pizzettas were going to be little pizzas. Apparently not. Adam had been doing his homework and found out that the direct Italian translation is actually “Pizzas for hungry oil rig workers” and hence we were treated to a kilo of majestically topped dough each. It may have been a clever ploy to soak up the 5 pints we were all clearly on the wrong side of but it was very welcome. Old clever noggin’ had been to hit his local pizza gaff to secure the dough which was pretty thick and rose up a bit to much (for which I’m sure there is a scientific reason that I neither know nor care about) but the toppings were luxurious enough not to care. The smoked mozzarella was seriously tasty with just enough spice in the marinara to keep it interesting. The duck confit was good (nothing controversial there) but was made by the pairing with the crisp apple. But my hands down fave was the Greek – nice salty feta and big juicy black olives…all good stuff for building up more of a thirst.

Next up was the dauphinoise which was beautifully executed with a good crispy top, perfectly al dente spuds and enough cream to drown a cat in. Faultless stuff and I remember helping myself to a cold slice in the early hours of the morning and being happy with life all over again. This was my first taste of kielbasa (which I actually thought was a fish…yes, laugh away yanks) but I’ll certainly be back for more. I may have been spoiled as Adam told me it was the finest kielbasa in Brooklyn but I was certainly impressed and it turned the dauphinois from great to exceptional. You could see chef was going for some yin & yang with the creamy tatties and sharp broccoli rabe with lemon but the broccoli turned out to be as bitter as a 50 year old dumpy mother of four who had been dumped for a 20 year old waif.

Next onto the snapper which was perfectly cooked and literally melted on contact with my gob. The parmesan and herb coating gave it flavour without overpowering the snapper and I could have snaffled them up for a good couple of hours. The black pepper biscuit (scone for the English readers) was a touch of genius as pepper and butter were equally, yet separately, prevalent in every mouth-watering bite. The garlic sauce came out a little thin but had all the flavour you would expect and the micro-green salad was good but I never thought I would see the day that it would appear on the Meat Monster’s menu.

Unusually, Boogie had been awake throughout proceedings but the end of course three signaled his traditional weekly twat-nap. With over 30 minutes to wait whilst thick slices of banana went extreme sun-bathing with only brown sugar for protection (an unwise decision in anyone’s book) it was time for the awake Jason to show us his party trick.

You may think that an unemployed man may want to set aside $800 for things like rent or food but this king of coffee “invested” his in a coffee maker that may double as a NASA satellite at the weekend. However, the sweet nectar that this thing produced was quite beyond your average cup of George. Kudos to the barista although I was regretting my equivalent of 6 coffees at 5am whilst laying in bed and trying to recreate the sound of an entire marching band with my teeth.

Onto the final course of sweet, molten, mushy bananas (in a good way…I am from the land of mushy peas don’t forget and they are holy food) topped with a tasty mixed berry and balsamic vinegar sauce. A great finish to an exceptional meal. Well done fella – you have done the ginger population proud.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Big Ol' Pot of Sunshine

When weather changes for the cooler, as it stubbornly has here, it immediately makes me think of comfort food. So this past Sunday, I decided to kick off the fall cooking season by mixing up a vat of chili for some friends. I've been preparing chili with the same basic formula since the first time I rolled up my sleeves and decided to give it a go. It's not a Johnson family secret handed down by my Grandmother or anything, it's simply a three-step process that can be tweaked to fit my mood, the tastes of group of people I'm cooking for, or to accommodate what meager ingredients I have stowed away in my cupboards.

Step 1: Cook Ingredients That Need to be Cooked

In this case, 2 lbs. of ground beef, one medium/large onion, 2 stalks celery, and 2 cloves of garlic. Cook all of these together with salt and pepper until the beef is cooked through. Remove from heat and drain pretty much all of the excess oil. When using a less expensive ground beef (typically 80-20 meat to fat percentage), there will be plenty to drain. I find the leaner meats don't have as much taste, but utilizing alternatives (i.e.- turkey, chicken, mixed canned beans for the veggie lovers) won't compromise the overall taste too much and can give you a chance to experiment with complimentary flavor combinations.

Step 2: Add Liquid Ingredients

True traditional chili is just meat and dry spices and water or stock. But since this isn't a Nationally sanctioned chili cook-off nor do I run a chuck wagon in Oklahoma, I like making a chunky, tomato-based chili. Canned diced tomatoes add all the flavor base and liquid content I need. I used one 22 oz. can of regular tomatoes and one 10 oz. can of tomatoes with chilies just to add a little heat. The next liquid ingredients are added in no particular order and in no particular amount. Hot sauce, chipotle Tabasco sauce (if you haven't tried this, I highly suggest it), Worcestershire sauce, and barbeque sauce (I had some leftover honey-garlic sauce in the back of the fridge). All I try to do is add the correct amount to balance the heat and sweet aspects of the sauces. Don't be afraid to taste early and often to make sure the balance is up to snuff.

Step 3: Add Dry Ingredients

With the exception of salt and pepper, I only use chili powder and brown sugar......again, the sweet and heat thing.

Once everything is in the pot, lower the flame and simmer away. If the chili looks too watery, cook at a higher temperature with the lid off to reduce the liquid and concentrate the flavor. All good one pot dishes take some time on the stove to complete. This gives ample opportunities to check seasoning levels. I always keep my spices and sauces at the ready in case something seems to be missing from the party. When all but the cooking time is completed, kick back with tasting spoon in hand and feel free to taste over and over wouldn't want to serve up a poorly seasoned chili now would you? Watch out for the magma-like temperatures a covered, steaming pot of chili can create. If an accident does occur, immediately douse affected areas with ice cold beer.

For the finishing touch, garnishes can run the gamut from a cool dollop of sour cream and grated sharp cheddar (my favorites), to a more adventurous avocado mash or red onion relish. Heap it on and spoon it down.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Croxley Ale House (28 Avenue B)

A shitload of beer? Yup. Flat screens in HD? Roger. Cool staff (yeah, I'm talking about you Nicki & Lydia)? Most Def. 10 cent wings on Mondays & Fridays? Yes!

I've been spending an ungodly amount of time @ Croxley Ale House (28 Avenue B) sucking down beers & stuffing my piehole with insanely cheap wings. The beer selection there is insane - they pretty much have everything under the sun & trust me - I've never met a beer I didn't like. The clientele is decidedly low-key & the place gets pretty darn rowdy when games are on (particularly Monday Night Football), you can literally smell the hot sauce on the wind a block or two away.

They used to have a garden next door which was awesome to sit out in in the summers, but wouldn't you know it, Community Board 3 put an end to that... Thanks! Good bar food & excellent beer make Croxley Ales an excellent destination for a quick bite to eat & a few pints.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

My cousin Alesha (often a guest at the club meals I cook) recently got a job at Snooth a pretty cool new website. Think of it as a mix between social networking & a wine review site. You can post reviews of wines & Snooth will give you recommendations based on your ratings. You can search by price, vintage, type, region, varietal or user-submitted tags. It's also possible to buy wines directly over through the website. I haven't had a chance to review any wines myself, but the Thursday Club crew have always been saying that we were going to review the wines that we drink at every meal (& trust me, we drink A LOT), so hopefully we'll start using Snooth.

The site is still in Beta, so I'm sure that plenty of other awesome features will be added soon. If you sign up, add me as a buddy (
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