Monday, April 30, 2007

Aubergine Stacker

I was poking around the fridge as I am want to do on a Sunday and I found a couple of big, gorgeous aubergines. Or should I say eggplants. They'd been in there for a couple of days and it was time their plain flesh was treated to some culinary magic. They really need minimal preparation I think, and I don't get too fancy with them. I sliced the buggers up real thin (about 1cm each) on to a baking tray, seasoned them up with salt and pepper (one side only) and drizzled them in olive oil. Into an oven at 350 F for 20 minutes exactly. While they were in there, I found some tomato sauce in a tub (you can just use that stuff from a jar) and slopped it into a saucepan and reduced until really thick. I thinly sliced some onions and a bit of garlic and sweat all this down in olive oil and a spot of water for 10 mins. I had some homemade pesto, which I made out of a huge bunch of slowly wilting basil we had in the fridge last week. (It's quite often that I just manage to catch food that's about to 'turn' and make something out of it. I loathe wasted food.) I located some old parmesan cheese, shredded mozzarella and the vestiges of a packet of good proscuitto. I toasted a good handful of pine nuts and and we were ready to rock 'n' roll. I took the aubergines out of the oven and let them cool slightly.

I stacked, starting with a sturdy piece of aubergine at the bottom, to hold everything up. Onto this I added onion mixture, then aub, then tomato mix, then aub, then mozarella cheese, then aub, then proscuitto, then aub, then pesto and parmesan, then aub. Repeat this 2-3 times until you have a nice stack. Press down each time to make sure everything is even. You could even use a spirit level. I covered the top with mozzarella and put the stack back into the oven to melt the cap. I put the leftover onion mixture into the middle of the plate and I thinned out the tomato mixture and dribbled it around that, dotting it with squibs of pesto. I placed the stack in the middle and topped it all off with some pine nuts/pignolas.

This particular stack must have been precarious as I cut into it and the whole thing more or less fell apart. Oh well, it all goes down the same way, and I must say it was DELICIOUS. And I didn't even need to pop out for groceries.


103 Ave. B, Lower East Side
b/w 6th and 7th Streets

When dining on the Lower east Side, one is faced with some tough decisions. Should we try that new place a couple of blocks up to road from 7B where we always end of having a pint? Or should we check out the steak at Buenos Aries? I’ve got it! What about going back to Casimir? In the end, we always arrive at a similar conclusion. Sure, I know it’s lame to ignore new culinary offerings in the area, but I just can’t resist the place. Opening a few years ago to mixed reviews, Casimir has come of age and has a special place in the hearts of all those hipsters and ex-pat French living on Avenue B. For one of our own Thursday Clubbers, the place is the centre of his universe. Jason practically lives there.

There is something to be said for having a ‘local’ and ‘regular’ restaurant spot, where the staff greet you by name and promise a fine table if you’ll just sit at the bar for a few minutes and drink this free beer and wine. This is a typical welcome for Jason, and sticking to him like glue means that I can also benefit from his relationship. We were 5-strong on this particular evening, and we did have to wait a while before being seated. It was 9.15 on Saturday night the place was packed out as you might expect.

Our waitresses exhibited all that is good and great about excellent service. They’re attractive, they know what specials chef is promoting, what they have run out of and can recommend substitutes from a fine bistro menu. The food is classic French bistro fayre, and in all the years Jason has been visiting Casimir, I don’t think he’s had a bad meal from them. Nor have I for that matter. And the general concensus after we left the place full-bellied and all fired up on French red plonk 2 hours later was very positive indeed. “Wow, Man, that food was excellent. How do they make it taste SO good?” Everybody loved the dimly lit dining room and the din and clatter of lots of happy people chowing down together, with a muted soundtrack of something French and jazzy…A touch clichéd perhaps, but no matter. The food sings louder than the speakers.

I had the salmon tartare, (I did want oysters but they’d had a run on them and they were out) a fabulous thick pink dollop of finely chopped salmon, capers and parsley with extra capers and red onion on the side.Casimir serves this with gaufrette potatoes, which I scoffed before I even thought about the salmon. They were homemade and I could have eaten a basket of the damn things. The salmon was, as usual, beautifully fresh and creamy and those salty little capers seasoned it well. My companions ate salads and soups, I must have been so interested in my dish that I paid their first courses little attention.

For my main, I always choose a signature dish of Casimir’s - A rich and spicy boudin noir, with apples and mash. What a classic! I have forever been a fan of these blood sausages, and each time I eat them I am reminded of my first taste when I was a kid – It blows me away - Meaty, spicy, succulent, and full of artery-clogging goodness.
Carina (my buddy from Denmark) hadn’t had a decent steak for ages and she got stuck well in to her filet mignon with mustard sauce and green salad. She must have been in awe as she is usually very talkative but we didn’t hear a peep from her while there was food on her plate.

Aleesha had chef special almond-crusted seared tuna with potato salad and a sort of Asian-soy sauce. We all looked very stuffed and happy by the time the desserts arrived. Casimir’s pastry chef knows their stuff. Apple tarte tatin, a stunning crème brulee and a rich chocolate tart arrived at our table with 5 spoons, courtesy of Eric (the owner) and the staff. With aching bellies and salivating mouths there was no way we were seeing this stuff go unattended and even those poor souls on diets grabbed some silverware and got stuck in. A fine finish.

Sure, we had some preferential treatment that night because of who we were with, but I do believe Casimir to be a solid neighbourhood eatery with really decent food to offer, whoever you may be. It is affordable too, and they thoroughly deserve such loyal clientele.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Thursday Club 4/24/07

Everyone's schedule has been a bit wacky as of late, so we decided to have the club on Tuesday. It was our resident 'meat-ologist', Mr Johnson's turn at bat.

- Creamy Spinach & Bacon Salad with Goat Cheese Scones.
- Sopressatta Rice Balls.
- Sirloin Steak with Spicy Choron Sauce & Cold Potato Salad.

I'm not much of a veggie lover, but the dressing, cherry tomatoes & huge hunks of bacon made this dis irresistible. Accompanied by the cheesy scones that were freshly baked & still steaming as they reached the table, this was an excellent start.

I was very excited to see this second course on the menu. Adam admitted that he had some trouble getting his balls to stick together(yeah, I said it), but I think they turned out excellent.

Crispy on the outside & the mixture of the egg, rice, cheese & sopressatta on the inside made my mouth water. It was like Pavlov's Dogs!

Now the 3rd course... You guessed it... MEAT. A delicious potato salad topped with a super rare Sirloin Steak (Adam's fridge is stuffed to the brim with fine meats that he ordered from Omaha Steaks, the lucky sod). Cooked to bloody perfection & crowned with a tasty choron sauce, this course was to die for.

Teddy & I slinked off, satiated to a local watering hole for a few beers after - an awesome night.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Turbot & salmon fishcakes with lemon & chive sauce

This is an old classic back in England using leftover bits of fish, 'fleshed out' with some mashed potatoes shaped into cakes and fried or baked. When we didn't have enough money for prime cod at the chippy, we'd always buy fishcakes as a fairly priced substitute. And we'd need some spare change for mushy peas too.

You will need, for four large cakes, or eight smaller ones:

1 lb of fish (I used turbot and salmon beacuse they both looked great at the fishmonger)
about 3/4 pint of milk
1 lb of mashed potatoes, cold
1/2 cup of finely chopped chives
seasoned flour, beaten egg (2) and fine corn meal for coating
olive oil for frying
a few sprinkles of Parmesan cheese
1 tsp flour
1 tbsp butter
a dash of heavy cream (optional) milk
juice of half a lemon
1 tbsp of chopped chives

This one is dead easy. Poach your fish: Put the fillets on a frying pan or skillet, cover with the milk, bring to the boil, turn off the heat, and let it sit for 5-6 minutes. The residual heat will cook the fish. Drain, reserving all the poaching milk, and let the fish cool. When cold, break the fish into large flakes, add the mash and chives and season with salt and pepper. Mix briefly and form the mixture into cakes. I use a ring mould with the mixture dropped onto a sheet of baking paper covering a cutting board or something to keep everything flat and easy to transport in and out of the fridge. Put the mixture in the fridge to chill untilo firm. This might take about 2 hours for solid cakes, anything less and you'll struggle with the coating exercises. Cover each cake with seasoned flour, into the beaten egg and into the corn meal. Put these back in the fridge to chill for about 1/2 hour. Heat the oil (medium heat) in a non-stick pan, drop the cakes in (maybe do this in batches so the oil doesn't cool too quickly - resulting in soggy, fat-soaked cakes) and fry until golden and crisp, about 4-5 minutes on each side for a large cake, redude the time for smaller ones. Drain and keep warm in a low oven. Sprinkle with the Parmesan to form some extra crunch on the top.

Heat the flour and butter in a pan and cook this roux until it's golden brown. Add the reserved poaching milk very gradually, stirring all the time to make a thin simple white sauce. Add the cream if using, add chives, season to taste. At the last minute, you should add the lemon juice (again, to taste) to the sauce.

I plated it up with some crushed broad beans and broccoli rabe in the middle, and a big sturdy golden nugget of fishcake on the top and the chive lemon sauce to form a moat around that. I ate this with a chilled glass of crisp Sauvignon in the back garden, now that the weather is finally here.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Cupboard with Fridge Sauce

My plan was to come home early and visit my friendly neighbourhood fishmonger to get some decent cod and salmon for a fishcake frenzy, but I kind of got caught up in some pizza bar over on the West Side and ended up gassin' about fantasy football (the foot-type) over a few pints and didn't get home until 9.30pm. Instead, and at a last resort I had to raid the kitchen and ended up gathering together a sorry-looking bunch of ingredients. Some dried from the cupbaord, some wet stuff from the fridge. I arranged them on the kitchen table and sat there with a glass of iced rum scratching my head and wondering how the fuck I might be able to make something out of it all. Then it came to me in a flash! Pasta! Nearly-dessicated grape tomatoes! I was halfway there. I rooted even deeper into the cavernous fridgidaire and found some garlic, Mascarpone, wilted parsley, some dried out proscuitto. Then it all became clear. Set the pasta cooking in boiling water, shred some onion and garlic, sweat over a medium heat for a few, add the grape tomatoes, a swidge of ketchup, cook for a bit longer, add a jigger of port (yes - I still had some left) and let it bubble, add Mascarpone, swill about a bit, prance around the kicthen like you're Mario Batali, drain pasta, mix with the spur-of-the-moment sauce, garnish with Parmesan cheese and some dodgy old parsley. "Fast food my way."

I switched on the box, sat back and got messy. For something knocked up on the hoof, it was damn tasty. Those tomatoes, while they looked dried-out and very sorry for themselves, they were super sweet and a liberal shower of Parmesan cheese with it's muscular saltiness brought out the best in them. I chopped the ham into thin shreds and draped them over the pasta. One for the family cookbook, for sure.

A Classic Meal

When presenting a 5 course meal, it is tough to pace the meal in a way where the diners don't get too full and miss out on any of the action. Teddy's last menu came in waves with each course proving to be better than the last. And just when we finished the main course, a phenomenal Rabbit prepared 3-Ways with Wild Mushroom Risotto, the whole production was brought to grinding halt with a delicate dessert and flavorful cheese to cap it off. Not too full, and no scrap of food went to waste.

Here's what we had in store for us when we arrived last Thursday.

* Spiced carrot soup with almonds
* Scallop, fresh tuna, pea and mint salad w/ tarragon and lemon dressing
* Rabbit three ways, w/wild mushroom risotto and English mustard vinaigrette
* Mascarpone with strawberry sauce
* 5-Year aged Gouda, apple pickle

The soup starter was silky smooth (strained 3 times legend has it) and had a great balance of intense spices and carrot flavor. It was key not to gorge ourselves on this first course because we had a long road ahead.......but I could have easily drank a small tub of the stuff.

The seafood salad mixed multiple elements of the sea, combining fresh raw tuna, pan seared scallops and a heavily seasoned, sauteed shrimp (I'll be cold and buried before I refer to them as prawns) . All of these were plated on a pea and mint puree. The tuna was the most textural item of the three, it was so fresh that it had no fishy taste at all, and melted like butter on the tongue.

Drum roll please..........rabbit 3-ways.

-Fried into crackling- -Roast Loin-

...and finally braised rabbit with the finished product.

It turned out as good as it looks on paper. The earthy and rich risotto was a perfect accompaniment to the juicy loin, crispy-chewy crackling and fall-apart braised meat. A generous smear of mustard vinaigrette was sharp enough to tie all the items together. Definitely one of the single best meals Teddy and the Club as a whole has created.

When you butcher a rabbit, there tends to be some leftover parts. Rest assured, we didn't let them go to waste. As a "surprise", Jason and I got to feast on the rabbit kidneys cooked in brandy (flambeed might be the more technical term, but I'll let the FDNY report tell the story).

The dessert tasted like a chilled strawberry soup with a creamy dollop of Marscapone in the middle. A 5-year aged Gouda capped off the night.

Super creative ideas, unbelievable tastes, all cooked up by a half drunk Brit. Kudos to the chef for a wonderfully prepared meal.

One question though.....where's my damn Apple Pickle??!

Sunday, April 15, 2007


I've been eating a lot this weekend. I mean, a LOT. Some of my weekends are just like that. From 10am until 10pm, my body craves sustenance in whatever form I can find it. Other weekends are frugal affairs, where wine takes precedence and hunger pangs don't even regsiter because my bloodstream is full of nicotine and I'm having too much fun. This one was one of the former.

It started with a trip up to City Island, a venerable rash of seafood retaurants and charter fishing boats. The wife's cousins, Martin and Angie, had been going up to CI since the late 70s, and they were to show us what all the fuss was about. Knowing I would fall in love instantly with the fresh sea air, the hospitality, and the briny seafood pulled from the cold swathes of Long Island Sound just that day, we buckled up and sped up the FDR to Pelham Bay Park, about 30 mins north of downtown Manhattan. There we chucked a right, crossed a toll bridge and suddenly found ourselves in a very laid back neighbourhood, with charter fishing boats either side of the bridge and restaurants boasting the freshest seafood. Martin and Angie know THE place to go, and he swung the car into the car park of the Crab Shanty. Originally a movie theatre, then a post office, the Crab Shanty was converted into a restaurant in 1977. Like I said, they are regulars, and once I had sat down, I understood why. The service is excellent. Their Long Island Iced Teas come in a half-pint glass, filled with ice, two jiggers each of each spirit and given a slight colouring with some Cola. They were wickedly good. I actually plumped for a Red Stripe, hopelessly trying to recreate some sort of Jamaican vibe, despite being just outside NYC. The best seafood I had eaten until now, had been in the Caribbean and I felt it was the right thing to do. Martin repremanded me, I saw the error of my ways, and he ordered one for me right away. Too good. Our first course was 2 dozen clams on the halfshell with the standard accoutrements. I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to raw seafood, and I wolfed a couple down 'au naturel', savouring their metallic brininess. I tried a couple with a squeeze of lemon. Very good too. I tried my final two bivalves with a splash of Tabasco sauce, and I swear I actually saw the buggers wince when I coated them in sweet heat. Now that's fresh! We were kinda celebrating Serena's birthday and Martin encouraged us to order whatever we wanted from the menu. Both the missus and I ordered lobster and king crab legs. Martin and Angie ordered just two lobster tails, grilled, with some jacket/baked potatoes. I thought that was very reserved, considering we were in seafood place, and then it became all too evident what we had done when our main courses turned up. They are seafood pros, and we are seafood novices. Theirs looked like a normal-sized entree. Ours looked like the entire contents of one of those fishing baskets from Discovery channel's 'Deadliest catch'! Tying a plastic bib around my neck, arming myself with slim fork and lobster tongs, I went into battle feeling slightly outfaced. That seafood tasted so good. Easily the best I have eaten in NYC. Or anywhere else for that matter. The lobster was very tender and cooked to perfection, grilled with fresh breadcrumbs and cheese, the crab legs sweet and easily broken open to reveal moist pink morsels of flesh inside. Everybody pointed out what a good time I was having when they alerted me to the fact that I was covered in bits of lobster, gallons of melted butter, breadcrumbs and lemon slices. With a mouthful of seafood, I could only nod in agreement. After wiping myself down with a damp cloth and polishing off the remainder of the last LIIT, Martin tipped the waiter generously, and we were on our way back to Manhattan, feeling great and reminiscing after a wonderful night out.

The next night, Saturday, was a trip out to a wonderful authentic Mexican place, Alma in Brooklyn. The rooftop of this great little place overlooks Battery Park and the financial district on Manhattan. Together with our friends, Chris and Kay, we watched the sun go down and the twinkling lights of Manhattan punctuate the darkness behind the BQE. They offer 'traditional' Mexican food with friendly service and a fabulous Margherita menu. We arrived at about 7pm, grabbed a quick Martini and headed up the two flights of stairs to their rooftop. We were offered menus and we quickly finished the drinks we bought downstairs as we were eager to work our way through the multitude of tequila-based drinks. Cucumber, peach and raspberry were on the hit list. We ordered two traditional with salt, one cucumber and one peach. I wish I could have had them all to myself. To kick the proceedings off, I tried to bag a plate of temales del dia, with beef, Cotija cheese and scallion, but they were clearly a popular choice and they had run out entirely, leaving me salivating at the table and wondering what to go for as second choice. We were slightly pressed for time, so we headed straight for the entree. Enchiliadas were a big hit on our table, all stuffed with poultry and melting cheese, but I felt like I had not had a steak for a while and when the waiter breezed past with a steaming hunk of beef on a plate the choice was obvious. I order it medium rare, with ancho chile sauce and corn-studded mash. Tremendous. It cut like a hot knife through butter and had a depth of taste I had not experienced before from beef. Perhaps Alma had been able to get their hands on a rare (and probably illegal?) batch of steak from Argentina? Fed entirely on pampas grass, it is truly superior beef, up there with the stuff from Japan. As it was Chris' anniversaire, Kay had had a sneaky word with the waiter and he span up with a fine chocolate cake and cream for Birthday Boy. The cake had a devilishly rich liquid centre and it was entirely moreish. Within seconds it was demolished, leaving nothing but smiling faces and chocolatey smears on spoons strewn around the table. We had the pleasure of a ride back to Park Slope in the walnut and leather splendour of Chris' Jaguar XK8, a luxurious end to a fine evening in a place with stunning views.

I awoke with the merest touch of heartburn this morning to an overcast soaked city and a grey feeling inside. What I needed was some eloquent brunch action with new NYC arrivals, Grant and Kate. They headed over on the subway from Battery Park and we headed out under cover of umbrellas to Sette, on 7th Ave and 3rd St. in The Slope. A rather swanky establishment. I noticed yesterday that they had a sign outside promising to deliver fine brunch fair, muffins, coffee and unlimited cocktails for just $14. Who can argue with that? We chose to sit under the plastic awning they have on the side of the place so we could listen to the soundtrack of the thundering rain and feel smug as we watched drenched people scurrying by. Our lovely waitress Samira brought us menus, a plate of warm fruit muffins with butter and jam, some mimosas and offered us coffee before returning to take our order. I went for the beetroot-walnut-goats cheese salad, followed by the egg panini with fennel sausage and Caciocavallo cheese. My fellow brunchers went for granola with honey and blueberries, prosciutto with melon, grilled salmon with watercress, past al forno, eggs benedict. Everything was brilliant (I managed to pinch small spoonfuls of everyone's meals) but I especially favoured my panini, the fragrant fennel in the sausage cutting through the rich egg and cheese and adding aromatic notes to each creamy mouthful. We were topped up liberally for the 2 hours were in there too, pomegrante mimosas, splendid white wines and coffees. The bill arrived, and we half-expecting some surprises as we didn't resally believe we could eat and drink all that for $14, but they promised and they delivered. A fine brunch destination. Hell, I might even pay the $2 and 40 mins subway ride from Midtown to come here, but fortunately I don't have to. I've booked a table for next week already.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Tasting @ Against The Grain: Part Deux

So, I returned to 'The House That Beer Built', Against the Grain (620 6th Street) for another cheese tasting last night. The cheeses were international this time & were provided by Murray's (254 Bleeker Street

ATG was typically busy, so I was relegated to a seat on the side - but with the prospect of beer & cheese looming, I didn't mind. Plus, I got to sit by Chris, the Murray's rep. who turned out to be a treasure trove of cheesy knowledge.

Here's exactly how I went about rating everything. I tasted the beer first. Then the cheese, then the accompaniment, then the cheese & accompaniment together. That gave me the full spectrum of flavors.

1st Pairing: Lord of the Hundreds and a quince gelee with Victory Pilsner.

This sheep's milk cheese from England was firm & flaky, not unlike parmesan. The quince gelee was sweet (perhaps too sweet?) & went very well together. The Pilsner was an excellent match as well. I gave this pairing 8/10.

2nd Pairing: Valencay & spiced plums with Captain Lawrence Liquid Gold.

This pasteurized goat cheese from Spain was very soft with a creamy, delicate texture, much like all goat cheeses. The only difference was that this cheese had a casing like a Brie or Camembert which had a blue cheese flavor to it. Delicious! I'm used to herb crusted goat cheeses, so this was a pleasant surprise. The spiced plums were spicy, sweet & tart, all at the same time - an excellent match for the cheese.

The beer was a new addition to the ATG arsenal & I really liked it. It was complex with subtle hints of fruit. 10/10 a perfect pairing.

3rd Pairing: Rebruschon & apple onion relish with Bear Republic Racer 5.

Just when I thought things couldn't get any better, this beast was placed before me.

This is a pasteurized Tome-style cheese from Piedmonte, Italy. It was firm, pungent, robust & delicious.I never eat the rind on hard cheeses, but I'll admit that this one was delicious. The relish was sweet, tart & acidic; it went very well with the cheese.

The beer was like a 'Sam Adams on Crack'. I hate Sam Adams, but I loved this beer. Yet another 10/10 pairing.

4th Pairing: Nisa & spiced raisins with Smuttynose Robust Porter.

This is a semi-soft raw sheep's milk cheese that was aged 6 months & hails from Portugal. It was sharp & pungent with a strong aftertaste, right down my alley. The raisins were spicy/sweet. Now the beer, hmm. I don't like Porters, so I'm not going to comment. 5/10 with the beer, 8/10 without.

5th Pairing: Cashel Blue & melon drizzled with honey with Sixpoint Oatmeal Stout.

This Blue cow's cheese hails from Ireland. It was strong & creamy with a complex aftertaste. The melons offered a sticky, sweet contrast to the cheese.

As I don't like stouts either, the staff were nice enough to pour me a 3 Philosophers which I was told is a mix of 3 ales. It has a subtle, sweet cheery flavor. I loved it. 9/10 (mainly due to the beer switch-a-roo).

All in all, I had a great time.


I had a chance to dine with my brother (Sous Chef Stef) & a few others at the 'cozy 'French eatery, Raoul's (180 Prince Street ( a few nights ago. Now, I use the term 'cozy' loosely, as if you've read my review of Extra Virgin, you'll know that I like my space while eating.

Stef & I turned up a little late as we were boozing at Ideya (349 W Broadway) beforehand. Needless to say, the place was packed! The Maitre d' showed us to our table which was in the enclosed garden in the back. We had to walk through the kitchen, which I thought was pretty cool.

I found the menu to be somewhat limited, but there were a few gems. I ordered the roast rabbit saddle with ricotta gnocchi, escarole & bacon. Stef had the oxtail ragout with pappardelle. As we arrived late, the others were just finishing up their appetizers. Our waiter said that he would try to get our (by which, I mean Stefan & I) dishes out asap so that we could all eat together. The kitchen staff worked their magic & we got our entrees only moments after the others. An excellent job, considering the time constraints.

Let me put it this way. My gnocchi & the sauce was simply amazing. I love gnocchi & this was delicious. The rabbit was also very tasty, but my only gripe was that the bacon was overcooked & very dry. Once separated from the bacon, the rabbit, gnocchi & sauce was a three-pronged attacked on my taste buds... I promptly waved the white flag...

People with vertigo, two left legs or no co-ordination would be advised to go to the bathroom before they go to Raoul's - or piss their pants. The spiral stairway to the bathrooms upstairs is tiny & very scary. I'm lucky that I was somewhat sober, or that would have been the end of J Boogie.

I enjoyed the food & atmosphere, but I doubt that I'll be going back to Raoul's as it's a little too cool for school & way out of my normal stomping grounds. If you're in the neighborhood & want some authentic old school French cuisine, give the place a once over.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Alchemy - 56 Fifth Avenue - Brooklyn

Right off of Flatbush Ave. in Brooklyn, Alchemy brings great food and a gastropub feel to Park Slope. By definition though, Alchemy doesn't really fit the gastropub stereotype. It is on the small size and the bar portion of the restaurant is more of a stopover between pre-meal drink and dinner than a proper juicer where you would sip whisk(e)y and spend a rainy a socially acceptable alcoholic would. They didn't take reservations, but a group of 5 of us got there at 7:30, had a beer and were seated by 8:00. Can't ask for much more on a Friday night. I went with the true initial taste test of a resaurant. Meat and Starch. It came in the form of:

Braised Pork Cheek with Sage Mash
Grilled Hanger Steak with Bernaise Sauce

The cheek cut like butter and the steak was cooked perfectly. No complaints were had by anyone else either. Alchemy serves the usual pub standards like fish and chips (done with skate wings) and lamb stew, but mixes things up with unconventional items and some original ideas. The veggie-types dining with us found more than a few options to choose from too.
The menu could probably describe it better.
Although there were only about a half a dozen choices for both starters and entrees, portions were good sized and left everyone full, but not quite in the grips of a food coma.

I'll definitely check it out again to try some of dishes I didn't get first time around.

Inspirational Chefs I: Marco Pierre White

Marco Pierre White. The original bad boy of cuisine. Mentor and inspiration for Gordon Ramsay (another kitchen bad boy), Heston Blumenthal and many others. From a council estate in Leeds, England, the boy became one of the Godfathers of modern cuisine with a restaurant empire currently valued at around $60 million. He has dated and dumped some of London's prettiest and richest maidens. He has cursed at and kicked famous people out of his restaurants for little or nothing other than the fact that he didn't like them. His power and hold over the UK and European restaurant scene is stronger than ever. At 33, he won a coveted third Michelin star, the youngest chef ever to do so. A few years later he handed them back, as he didn't feel he needed them any more. This, at a time when most of his proteges were struggling to achieve them. Marco now spends most of his time presiding over his restaurant empire (including The Oak Room, Mirabelle, Quo Vadis, and Hyde Park Hotel) and shooting and fly-fishing on his country estate.

Marco had a deeply unhappy childhood. His mother died of a brain haemorrage when he was six, and his absent father pushed him into kitchens when he was young to train. He worked first as a commis and his first encounter with the Brigade system was at the Box Tree, in Ilkley, North Yorkshire, where he was exclusively referred to as 'cunt'. He turned up in London as a 16 year old, peniless and full of ambition. He wangled a commis job with the Roux Brothers at le Gavroche, under Pierre Koffman at La Tante Claire and from there in 1987, he opened Harveys in Wandsworth Common, now the site of another Michelin-starred restaurant, Chez Bruce. At Harveys, he was awarded his first star, then almost immediately a second. His pursuit of excellent extended to every plate that left his kitchen. He was obsessive and relentless in his pursuit of those stars and he was 'fond' of bullying tactics to foster respect and flawless food. Gordon Ramsay famously burst into tears while working as a commis at Harveys when Marco had given him a good bollocking in front of the staff. Excellence, says Marco, is a lot of little things done very very well and pulled together. He would accept nothing but perfection. Bullying tactics in the heat of the kitchen work though - 6 of White's commis chefs went on to claim Michelin stars. He had, in effect, rasied the entire standard of British cuisine to a level to rival classic French gastronomy.

Marco's cuisine centres around showcasing the best of British ingredients. His book, 'Wild Food from Land and Sea' contains recipes for rabbit, mussels and fish found in British waters, scallops, pigeon, and I reckon he has a real feeling for the terroir philosophy the French keep so dear. Marco makes full use of every scrap of all ingredients, beliveing that waste is unacceptable. And I think he's quite right.

So this then, is a dish inspired by the great man:

Rabbit three ways

You will need, for four people:
1 whole rabbit, preferably wild, jointed
flour and Colman's mustard powder for dusting
olive oil
1 onion, 1 carrot, diced finely
3-4 sprigs of thyme
2 cloves garlic, sliced
3 cups rabbit broth*
3 cups of cider (that's hard cider)
enough chicken stock to finish covering the joints
1/4 cup of heavy cream
1/2 tsp Colman's mustard
1 pinch of chopped freh tarragon

more olive oil and butter to roast the loin and to fry the julienned belly.

Joint the rabbit as follows. Empty the body cavity of liver, heart, kidneys and remove fat from inside the loin, reserve the organs but discard the fat. Remove the back legs and front legs intact, by cutting around the joint and 'popping' the bone out. Remove the belly flaps from the ribcage and loin. Seperate tail from loin (just imagine it's where your arse meets your back - that's where your knife goes) and ribcage from loin. You should have two meaty strips running either side of the spine. You need to chop this into four equal pieces, chopping straight through the backbone. You're left with a rib cage, some neck and the organs. You'll need that stuff for the rabbit broth, but save the kidneyS for a garnish. I like to flash-fry them on skewers in butter and brandy for an offal treat.

*Rabbit broth: Chop the rib bones, neck, liver and heart into small pieces. Chop an onion, carrot and 2 ribs of celery into chunks. Toss all the bones and vegetables with olive oil and put into a 350F oven to roast until it has some nice colouring, about 45 mins. Put this into a pan, delgazing the oven roasting dish with some water or a splash of Calvados and adding to the meat and veg. To this add a few back peppercorns, a few juniper berries, 3 bay leaves, some parsely stems, some tarragon if you have it, and cover the whole lot with cold water, enough to cover everything and make 3 or 4 cups. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat immediately and simmer gently for about 1-1.5 hours. Strain the broth, throughy muslin/cheesecloth if you have it, and chill in the fridge overnight. The next day, remove the fat that has solidified on the top. There you have it.

So to make the trio of rabbit dishes, you'll first need to braise the hind quarters and the front legs.

BRAISE: Set the oven to 375F. In a plastic bag put some seasoned flour and mustard powder and shake those joints until the are all lightly coated. Brown on a Dutch oven in hot oil. Remove and keep warm. Add the onion and carrot and sweat for 8-9 minutes. Add the thyme and garlic and cook for another 5-6 mintues, without letting anything colour. Put the browned rabbit joints on top, add the rabbit broth, cider and stock to cover, bring to a boil. Put in the oven with the lid on and cook for about 70 minutes. Remove the rabbit meat and leave to cool. Meanwhile strain the veg from the sauce and return the liquid back to the pan to reduce by two thirds. Add the cream, the mustard and reduce until you have a thick sauce. Add the chopped tarragon. Shred the cooled rabbit meat and mix with just enough of the sauce to form a stiff mixture. Keep warm until needed.

ROAST: Set the oven to 375F. Season the 4 loin sections. In a shallow frying pan over a medium flame, heat some oil and a knob of butter and the seasoned meat, basting and browning all over. Place in the oven, still at 375F, for about 8 mins. Remove and allow to rest.

FRY: Julienne the rabbit belly flaps finely and fry in hot oil until very crisp. Think 'rabbit cracklings' and you'll get the idea.

ASSSEMBLY: Using a ring mould, portion out some of the braised mixture into the centre of a plate. rest the roast loin section on top of that and arrange the crispy belly fries on top of that.

I served mine with a wild mushroom risotto and some mustard vinaigrette.

Recipe: Fried Beer Battered Mussels w/2 Sauces

For sauces
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 3 tablespoons coarse-grained mustard
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
- 1/2 teaspoon curry powder

For fried mussels
- 8 oz (1 cup) beer (not dark)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 qt vegetable oil for frying
- 2 lb mussels, cleaned & steamed, then shucked.

Accompaniment: lemon wedges
Special equipment: a deep-fat thermometer

Make sauces:
Put 1/2 cup mayonnaise into each of 2 small serving bowls and whisk mustard into 1 bowl. Whisk cilantro, lime juice, and curry powder into other bowl. Season dipping sauces with salt and pepper and keep chilled, covered.

Make batter and fry mussels:
Whisk beer into flour in a bowl until combined well.

Heat oil in a 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until thermometer registers 375°F. While oil is heating, pat mussels dry between layers of paper towels, pressing lightly.

Dredge 10 mussels in batter, letting excess drip off, and fry in oil, stirring, until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer mussels as fried with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain, then season with salt. Fry remaining mussels in batches in same manner, returning oil to 375°F between batches.

Serve mussels immediately, with dipping sauces.

Thu 5th Apr - An evening with Uncle Boogie

J Boogie was on the Asian tip again last Thursday (Apr 5th, 07). His menu, mainly fish and fruit, represented the typical pan-Asian diet – lean oceanic protein, rice, fresh fruit and vegetables, very little red meat and no dairy. According to all sorts of research, the Asian diet prolongs life by reducing cholesterol in dairy and meat, and adding cancer-fighting compounds only found in fresh fruit and veg. So I felt super-virtuous wolfing the stuff down, not just because it’s good, healthy stuff, but it tasted so damn good.

I showed up a little early at J’s house, range the bell and I couldn’t find the man anywhere. I eventually caught up with him around the corner in the Associated supermarket, staggering around half in the bag. He had been in a public house all afternoon, and he could barely say his name, let alone prepare a meal. So he needed some help, which I gave, while he retold the events of the night before and his afternoon’s entertainment.

He had steamed the mussels the night before, fortunately, and then Boogie beer- battered them, deep fried the buggers and served them up with two dips – coriander-curry mayo and lime-mayo. I can honestly say, they were amazing. It was 9pm, and I was ravenous, BUT I don’t think that accounted for my enjoyment of them. They were crunchy, soft in the middle, seasoned with Old Bay, lubed with the dip, texturally so satisfying.

Next up was a perfectly cooked piece of salmon. Well done Boogie, most people overcook the stuff. I mean, it was almost creamy in the middle. He’d glazed it with ginger, mirin and sake. What a delight. The fish needed no effort at all to eat because it was so soft. No chewing need. And packed with flavour. The bok choy was pretty tasty too.

We had a rather Caribbean-inspired dessert, but with a Japanese twist. Sake soaked chunks of melon and papaya. Let’s call in Japabbean. I was in need of a drink after that and we retired to Satsko for some refreshments in the form of sake bombs. A good night was had by all, especially Boogie who was simply topping up from his beery afternoon.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Beef in Port with Mushrooms

I found a bottle of port knocking around in the kitchen, so I decided to make the most of it's flavour and pair it up with a nice juicy piece of beef and some more mushrooms. I paid a visit to the excellent Union Market on 6th Ave in Park Slope, a local upmarket place with some great organic produce. I came back with a chunky strip steak with some fine marbling, some Baby Bellas and a wedge of nutty 5-year aged Gouda to soak up any wine we might have left after the beef.

You will need, for 2 people:
  • a strip steak, about a pound in weight
  • olive oil
  • onion, one cup, carrots & celery, about half a cup each, diced
  • a handful of thyme leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 3 cups of ruby port
  • 4 cups of hot beef stock (or enough to cover the meat)
  • Baby Bellas, about 4, quartered
  • Something to serve it with - Mash? Roast spuds? Some shredded cabbage?

Set the oven to 350 F. Chop that huge rectangular slab of beef into 2, straight across. Season both sides and brown all over the hot oil. Set aside to rest. Add the mirepoix and sweat for about 8 minutes. Add the thyme and garlic and cook for another 3 minutes, stirring all the time to prevent too much colouring and anything welding itself to your lovely Dutch oven. Add the port, the stock, making sure the beef is submerged. Bring to a boil, lid on, and place in the oven for about an hour. Take it out and add the quartered mushrooms. Lid on again, in the oven for another 15 mins. Remove from the oven, take out the beef and let it chill out for a few minutes while you boil the crap of the sauce on the stovetop to reduce. Pluck the mushrooms out and let keep them warm. Strain the sauce. There's no flavour left in those pieces of onion and carrot - It's all in the braising liquid. Now - Reduce. You need a good sauce consistency. Put the beef in the centre of a plate, scatter the mushrooms around it, and spoon the sauce over and around the beef. I served mine with some creamed kale on the side and mopped all the porty goodness with some crusty bread.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Gotham Bar & Grill - An afternoon with Alfred Portale

I'd read about the bloke. Numerous times. And then I discovered that Alfred Portale runs one of NYC's finest and most 'Manhattan' kitchens, Gotham B&G. The missus said she'd always wanted to go so I booked a table straight away and invited a couple of our friends making four in total.

Portale used to be a jewellery designer, and he applies his artisitic instincts beautifully to his food. He graduated from CIA and trained in France with the likes of Michel Guerard and Troisgros brothers, shortly before he became master of the 'vertical dinner' when he returned to the US and opened Gotham B&G. His food really is beautiful. Perhaps it was the combination of flavour and immaculate presentation that won him honours in 1993 as Best Chef in NY, and then Gotham won over the James Beard Foundation and it was named best restaurant in NY in 1994. We were stoked when we walked into the bar spitting feathers and ordered a round of house champagne. Service was prompt and flawless. This could only bode well for our lunch, and I was dreaming of a procession of stunning plates and some fabulous food. You can check out GB&G's lunch menu here.

Of course, Jason and I picked the terrine (I'm a sucker for anything with foie gras in.) The ladies chose nothing for appetiser as they wanted to keep some room back for main course and Portale's legendary desserts. Jason chose the Hawaiian prawns, Jessica got the Asian cod dish, and the missus orders what she always does, the boring cow - steak.

Good Lord, that terrine was sumptuous. Chunks of duck breast, interspersed with earthy rich foie gras and it was indeed a decadent mouthful. I didn't want it to end. But it did. I still had the main course to look forward to though, and it arrived shortly afterwards, looking like heaven on Earth:

Jessica's black cod was delightful, the Asian/Thai flavours augmenting and not masking the fish, salty soy, exotic lemongrass and ginger. Despite what I said earlier, I simply HAD to try Serena's steak. I mean, it just looked so damn good:

I couldn't fault anything that came out of the kitchen (I even remember spending 5 mins waxing lyrical abou the butter on the table) and the service was impeccable. Then came the dessert. A work of art in itself:

I will certainly be going back. Prices are reasonable if one doesn't hammer the wine. We had two great bottles, one each of red and white, and the bill came to roughly $400 with tip. Merci beaucoup, Monsieur Portale.
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