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.
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