Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bacchus Bistro, Brooklyn.

So, we all met up in Brooklyn for Teddy's '60th' birthday over the weekend & threw down. Converging on Bacchus (409 Atlantic Avenue) we were in for some primo French Fare. I wasn't so sure what to expect as I'm so used to the amazing food at Casimir. While Bacchus did not disappoint, some dishes had their flaws.

Teddy & I shared starters; Scallops & a Duck Gizzard salad, both were excellent, particularly the salad which I cannot find the words to describe.

Here are a few of the other starters that were had...

I had the duck confit which I found to be VERY dry. Teddy had the skate which was really salty. While these weren't really deal breakers, I wish the food was better on the night. That having been said, I did have a good time at Bacchus.

We went to a local bar afterwards & made complete idiots out of ourselves - good stuff!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Chef Mike's Debut

There are several dream sentences you want to be greeted with when going round a friend’s house for dinner. “I hope you don’t mind but my missus has her yoga mates in the room next door and they are getting pissed and rowdy” ranks up there with “We Swing” but my new favourite was uttered by Chef Mike as we walked through his fragrant front door at 7:30 last night…”I had some left over meat so there’s an extra course…meatballs”. The review was always going to be favourable after this inspired stroke of genius.

So for the second week in a row it was cherry popping time at the Thursday Club with nearly Italian American (something to do with his gran’s milkman but I lost track) Mike as commander of pans for the night and he chose to treat us to an all Italian five course extravaganza. The menu was…1) A gob pleaser of skewered meatballs with raw, fresh snow peas/sugar snaps/green things, 2) Courgette (none of your zucchini rubbish) and Parmesan Basil Soup with Parma Ham and Basil-Buttered Toast, 3) Bolognese Ragu over Pappardelle, 4) Stinchetti di Maiale all Birra (Beer-Braised Pork Shanks) over a Pancetta, Parmesan and Hominy Polenta, 5) Strawberries and Rhubarb with Balsamic Zabaglione.

First up was the amuse bouche (which Adam still believes means shut your pie hole) of meatballs which were a real delight…more moist than an otter’s chuff and the fresh green thingies provided a fantastic crunchy contrast. There was even some polite jostling over the last meatball…clearly enough wine had not been drunk.

Next up was the soup which stood up to the universal test…namely that I could have had a bucket of the stuff and walked away a happy, well fed man. Incredibly fresh and fragrant basil cut perfectly through the creamy parmesan to provide the ideal bath for the discernable chunks of courgette…the lucky bastards. The side of basil buttered toast with a generous portion of Parma ham was yet another stroke of genius from Chef Mike.

Then out came the veal bolgnese ragu over pappardelle. To describe the sauce as sauce isn’t truly accurate as it was nothing like the pissy tomato based pap I’ve had a million times in the past. Instead it was clearly 90% meat and had texture, structure, bite and everything else you want to keep your pasta company. The thick ribbons of pappardelle was yet another inspired choice and I am definitely stocking my cupboard with some in time for winter as it could double as an effective scarf.

Now even a large-framed chap like myself was starting to get a bit full at this stage so we had a break to discuss high-brow political issues, clingwrap Mike’s “dog” and over-analyse the size of some girl’s ass who I’ve never met but would now like to. Which reminds me, is anyone free for Don Giovanni on Sunday?

We were getting close to understanding what Jason does for a living when out trots course four. The pork shanks had clearly been bathing in beer for the better part of a month as the meat and fat fell off the bone in equal measure as the plates passed the fan. The parmesan and hominy polenta topped with crispy nuggets of pancetta (all topped with pan juices) nicely provided the starch but I was having difficulty getting it down given the food mountain I had already consumed.

Now I am going to use a cliché and say I’m not much of a dessert kind of guy but for me, the strawberry and rhubarb with balsamic zabaglione ranks up there as one of those all-time stonking finales. The creamy yet tart yoghurt consistency zabaglione set off perfectly against the spunky stewed fruit and I once again managed to forget how full I was.

The nonsense chat continued into the wee hours accompanied by a couple of growlers (not a euphemism), Mike’s ill missus and half the cast of Evan Almighty. Good work Mike, a resounding debut success. Now if you would be so kind as to move to Manhattan to make my journey home easier then I would consider you the perfect host…

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Serve Yourself.

My roommate, the awesomely awesome Roxy is headed off to Europe soon for 6-12 months so we had a going away dinner for her at the crib last night.
We decided that a self-serve buffet style dinner would be best, considering the numbers. Alesha made amazing Jerk Chicken. Fulvia hooked up penne with chorizo, broccoli rabe & cherry tomatoes. Leila made stir fried pork, empenadas, mini-sandwiches & baked a wicked cheese cake. I made a simple salad, couscous salad (I bit Grant's style & added tomatoes & mozzarella) & beef meatballs (these were meant to be lamb, see my butcher rant below). 15 or so people turned up & we rocked out till the wee hours. With bellies full & livers groaning we were treated to an impromptu jam session from Roxy & Mitch.

The death of the family butcher.

Prepare yourself for a profanity-filled post from an extremely angry black man. I spent about an hour yesterday trolling the East Village for some ground lamb, but came home empty-handed. I headed straight for Kurowycky Meat Products (see piccie) on 1st Avenue, the 52-year-old Ukrainian East Village butcher that made peerless sausage and ham only to find that the place has closed down due to rising rents. WTF!?!

Dejected, I head to the East Village Meat Market (139 2nd Ave). I have never before in my life seen such a sad collection of meats in my entire life. The 'butcher' (I use the term loosely) there was the rudest person I've ever met in my entire life. He snorted 'What do you want?' as I walked up to the counter, then proceeded to tell me that he had no ground lamb. I asked him if he had any lamb & he showed me three hunks of disgusting looking meat. Short on time & in a bind I asked him if he could grind some for me... Guess what - 'No, we just cleaned the grinder & are about to close'. I did a double-take & asked him if he was serious, 'As a heart attack' he says.

I live in the East Village, one of the 'cooler' neighborhoods in NYC, how hard should it be to get some fucking ground lamb? Obviously, I could have just gone to Whole Foods, but fuck that; I'd rather support smaller shops than give a penny to them. In a time of Happy Meal-filled obese children, KFC 'family' dinners, etc. it disgusts me how an institution like Kurowycky can go under while other, far inferior, butchers stay open to serve up horrible meat.

What ever happened to the family butcher? That nice old guy you saw once a week to pick up meat for your family meal. He would let you know what was fresh, special order items for you & was skilled in his craft. My dad told me stories of his time as an NYC bachelor. He had his local butcher & a locker there. He would buy a side of dry aged meat & go in from time to time to have the butcher carve it up, as & when needed. Those days are long gone & that pisses me off to no end.

Monday, June 18, 2007

André-Pascal throws down.

To most families, Father's Day means taking Dad out & pampering him, but in the Casséus household, in means Dad in the kitchen, feeding the flock. Sous Chef Stef & I made the lengthy trip to the upper east side for some awesome food yesterday.

When we were growing up & still living with the 'rents, we were pretty much the only people among our circle of friends who HAD to be home for dinner. No matter where we were or what we were doing, everything stopped around dinner time & we would be home, on time, for the family meal. Meals were normally very formal, very European & very good. André switched the game up a bit by serving up an informal Mediterranean buffet of sorts, hold your breath, there are a lot of dishes here...

- Grape leaves filled with spicy rice and pinola
- Hummus twice mixed with tahini plus a touch of paprika
- Egg plant caviar with suptle dashes of crushed dried mint
- Confit of eggplant with capers and dried tomatoes blended with a touch of harisa
- A thick offering of greek yogurt topped with crushed garlic, lime juice (a competitor to hummus)
- A beautifully arranged plate of crisp leaves and legumes
- A "white and black plate" of demi sel feta and oil cured black olives.
- An offering of falafel and kibbe.

We ate for hours, talked about old times & told dirty jokes. A great night.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Grant pops his cherry.

So, it was time to 'break in' the new boy, so Adam, Teddy & myself ran a 'culinary train' on Grant last night...

- Cappuccino of Green Pea Soup.
- Pan Fried Sea Scallops & Goose Liver with Amaretto Sauce and Balsamic Vinegar.
- Pan Fried Black Cod with Tomato & Mozzarella Cous Cous.
- Dark Chocolate Pudding with Praline Semifreddo.

If the first course was any indication of the things to come, I knew we were in for a great night. Topped with a dollop of frothed milk & tasting of bacon & liver, the soup was an awesome mix of flavors. All 4 of us eagerly dispatched our mugs.

We all pranced around like ravenous wild dogs as Grant constructed the next course. Buttery scallops topped with delicious goose liver. The Amaretto sauce w/balsamic was an amazing pairing & really enhanced the flavor of the dish.

The main course did not disappoint. Pan fried to perfection, the black cod was delightfully crispy on the outside & flaky on the inside - this dish was a real treat. The couscous, with nuggets of tomato/mozzarella goodness was damn tasty as well.

Just when I think I can't fit any more food into my ever-expanding tummy, Grant whips out this little jewel of 'chocolaty insanity'. Moister than the sun, the chocolate literally oozed out of this bad boy like lava at the touch of the spoon. How'd he do it? Fuck if I know, but I did enjoy stuffing my face with it! We retired to his garden afterwards for more booze & merriment.

Grant - Welcome to Thursday Club!!!

Prep pics:

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Closing Act To Be Remembered

Now that we're getting along a bit in the Club's history (13 rounds.....or is it 14?), it's getting to the point where certain dishes are etched on your brain for one reason or another. With the exception of a few disastrous results, more times then not it's because of exceptional taste. Jason spun up one of those golden Thursday Club moments last Thursday. Here's the menu:

- Portobello and Bleu Cheese Salad
- Beer Braised Bratwurst with Caramelized Gala Apples
- Roasted Rack of Lamb with Wild Mushroom Risotto*

* denotes the particular ass-kicking dish mentioned earlier

Things got started with a super rich, appetite-enhancing salad. The earthy sliced mushrooms and the crumbled cheese soaked up all the dressing like a sponge. It went really nicely with the hearty red that was selected (I can't recall the name of the wine.......but it was definitely red). Even though it showcased non-meat items, this flavor packed course definitely got me looking forward to what was left to come.

The second course is one of my favorite combinations. Absolutely one if the best examples of when savory and sweet just click on a different level. Mild sausages worked really nicely with the sweet and sometimes tart apples, and the crisp outer casing also blended with the softened fruit. Amazing, right? That's the way meals are supposed to be set up I guess. I've seen alot of sausages in butchers or grocery stores that combine the 2 flavors in the same casing, but I think alot of the texture that is present in the deconstructed form is lost. I'll eat them though......I'll eat most things.

When we finished up the last bite course two, the big guns were unleashed. Two sizely racks of lamb covered in a mustard-herb paste were on display for us all while the oven was fired up. As you could see through the oven window (you could sell tickets to that shit), the high temperature was going to crust up the outside while keeping the meat moist and juicy.

The smell filled up the apartment, the thermometer hit 143 degrees, they rested (for what seemed like for-friggin-ever), and we dug in. Medium rare and delicious, like lamb has to be. The outer flavoring in no way took away the natural taste of the meat, it actually seemed to enhance the lambiness (wow, don't know where I pulled that one from, but you know EXACTLY what I'm talking about).

Definitely one of those courses to long as I don't forget something of importance in it's place, like how to write or chew or something.

I'm going to have to borrow this recipe for certain, and claim it as my own.........just try and stop me.
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